- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

PRESTON, Minn. - Bob Maust thinks he has the perfect place for all those scrap tires that litter Midwest landfills and shop yards: His hometown.

Mr. Maust dreams of building a tire-burning plant in this idyllic farming community that would bring 30 or more jobs, generate electricity and chip away at the millions of tires stockpiled nationwide.

Not everyone agrees, however, and a local dispute over the plant illustrates the pressure for economic development in shrinking small towns. Developers here who are eager to capitalize on the new tire-burning technology are squaring off against environmentalists and outdoors enthusiasts who fear pollution and a dent in the region’s tourism.

Hunting, trout fishing and biking draw thousands to this community of about 1,400 tucked in the rolling hills of southeastern Minnesota. It’s a quiet and remote region, where the Amish ride buggies along the county roads and vacationers find respite at local bed-and-breakfasts about 100 miles southeast from Minneapolis.

Critics point out that the plant’s smokestack would tower 20 stories, dwarfing the tallest buildings in town.

“The aesthetics of it in a small, rural community — with that smokestack? — is absolutely unbelievable,” said Dick Nelson, a former mayor who recently discussed Mr. Maust’s proposal at a coffee shop in downtown Preston.

Mr. Maust’s plant would be the first in the nation to recycle all the steel inside a tire. And it would burn only tires — 200,000 a week — collecting them from hundreds of miles in either direction, as far as Chicago to the east and Kansas City, Mo., to the south.

The facility would produce enough power to supply 8,000 to 20,000 homes and help relieve landfills of tires, which collect water where mosquitoes can breed.

An environmental group has slowed the plant’s development — filing two lawsuits, one questioning state regulators who concluded that the plant wouldn’t emit significant pollution and the other objecting to permits granted to the proposed business, Heartland Energy and Recycling Inc.

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