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Air quality concerns raise stink for planning commission

EAGLE RIVER — A request for a review of zoning ordinances in Keweenaw County by a group of Ahmeek Location residents a month ago has evolved into a question of who is responsible for zoning enforcement in the county.

At the regular January meeting of the Keweenaw Planning Commission, the group of residents requested the review after repeated complaints that a company named Neuvokus generates strong odors. Neuvokus manufactures GatorBar, a fiber reinforced polymer rebar used in construction.

The request was placed on the January 29 meeting, but was tabled because the company’s owner, Eric Killonen, said he had just been notified on the day the meeting was to take place and was not prepared to respond.

A number of the group attended the County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 21 and asked if the County Board intended to take action of some sort.

Board Chairman Don Piche responded that County Prosecuting Attorney Chuck Miller would like the stakeholders involved in the issue notified before the issue is discussed, which will probably be at the regular March meeting.

What Chuck Miller wants the Board to do, Piche said, is to approve allowing him write letters to EGLE and the stakeholders.

“To my understanding, what Chuck told me,” said Piche, “our zoning in this county has no control over air quality. It’s just like we have no control over health issues, that’s the Health Department. He feels that it’s EGLE who has to make the decisions.”

That is what the group heard at the Planning Commission’s regular February meeting on Monday.

Ahmeek resident Mike Delesha asked if the Planning Commission was the entity that is going to take up the issue.

“We’re well into our fourth year of dealing with this, and we’re tired of it,” Delesha said, adding that someone needs to look into the violations.

“The Zoning Board clearly states that enforcement is a shared responsibility between the administrator and the prosecuting attorney,” Delesha said.

Commission Chairman John Parsons read a letter from Ahmeek resident John Cima to EGLE requesting an in-person meeting that would include Chuck Miller along with the Sara Heikkila, county zoning administrator regarding zoning ordinance violations.

Parsons then read a letter from Miller, regarding addressing the issue through zoning, which read in part:

“I understand the citizens’ exasperation with this situation which EGLE has permitted to continue unresolved for more than two years.”

Miller wrote that the burden of abating the odor issue should not shift to the county via a zoning enforcement, where the abatement of air pollution falls squarely within the EGLE zone of responsibility.

Miller wrote that in his opinion, EGLE should either obtain a consent judgement against Neuvokus, requiring Neuvokus to take specific action in specific time frames, or request the state Attorney General to commence civil litigation for abatement of Neuvokus’ pollution.

“The Board County could play a roll in prodding EGLE to move forward — if the Board of Commissioners wishes to do so,” Miller wrote.

Miller added that in his opinion, a zoning enforcement action would be a weak substitute for action by EGLE and the Attorney General.

“EGLE has scientific expertise that the county lacks in terms of pollution measurement,” Miller wrote, “the detrimental effects of certain types of pollution and the availability and feasibility of remedial measures.”

Miller, Parsons said, concluded by writing that there are policy questions regarding the issue that need to be decided by the Board of Commissioners.

Parsons said that the Planning Commission shares Miller’s sentiments. It is not an issue that the Planning Commission can act on, because the Commission has no authority to enforce zoning ordinances.

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