Preston City Council members cited a positive economic impact as they voted unanimously during their Jan. 21 meeting to support the POET Biorefining ethanol plant located in the city.

The support will come in the form of a letter to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) opposing proposed reductions in the "amount of renewable fuel that must be blended into the nation's transportation fuel supply."

City Administrator Joe Hoffman presented a written summary that this amount, called "Renewable Volumes Obligations (RVOs)," was set by Congressional statute at 18.15 billion gallons for 20014 under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). However, he noted the EPA has proposed an RVO reduction to 15.21 billion gallons. Within that amount there are still further reductions that apply to ethanol such as that produced at POET.

Mayor Kurt Reicks, who had attended a recent local meeting on the issue, said less ethanol production would have a negative economic impact on the community. Fewer jobs would affect businesses and grain haulers, locally. He suggested council members write individual letters of support.

The proposed RVO reductions were further detailed in the summary. "The EPA has proposed to reduce the volume of advanced biofuels (fuels which must be at least 50 percent improvement to gasoline for greenhouse emissions) from 3.75 billion gallons to 2.2 billion. Within the advanced pool, EPA has proposed 1.7 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol and 1.28 billion gallons of bio-based diesel.

"Together, these proposals have the effect of reducing the total amount of grain-based ethanol that can be used to meet the standards from 14.4 billion gallons to 13.01 billion gallons. This is also a reduction from last year's total of 13.8 billion gallons for grain-based ethanol." Furthermore, "the EPA's proposals would leave room for the possibility of 263 million gallons of imported ethanol in the advanced pool."

A 60-day comment period on the EPA proposals was projected to end in late January.

Main Street crossings

Council members approved a design installing six-feet pedestrian ramp "bump-outs" to upgrade pedestrian crossings at the intersection of Main and St. Paul Streets, as proposed by Fillmore County officials in the county's planned repair of St. Paul Street.

Hoffman explained the city at first considered trying to match the crossings on the upper side of the courthouse square, which are concrete and an asphalt imprinted to resemble bricks. The slope going into the intersection, however, wouldn't meet ADA (American Disabilities Act) requirements. The county had suggested going at an angle, however Hoffman noted crossings need to line up across the street to aid the visually impaired.

When council member Dave Collett asked about bump-outs narrowing the streets and taking up parking spaces, Hoffman said parking doesn't run that close to intersections and bump-outs shouldn't affect it. Another benefit he noted is that Main Street is a one-way there, so it's just one lane of traffic instead of two.

The bump-outs, possibly extending to eight feet should be "visually appealing," according to Hoffman. Curb, gutter and sidewalk would be a 50/50 cost share with the county, while the city would pay 100 percent for crosswalks, which will not be concrete.

Hoffman will return a cost-share plan at a future council meeting. He also said Fillmore County also would consider a bump-out at the River Street intersection at a later date.

EMS grant

Preston Ambulance Service Director Ryan Throckmorton said the service had applied for and received a grant of up to $2,000 from the Southeast Minnesota EMS office for IV (intravenous) supplies and training equipment. The upfront cost is $2,600. The grant will reimburse after a share of the cost of 25 percent has been subtracted. The council approved.

Other business

• Council members approved hanging 28 flower baskets, which Joe Gosi anticipates will run $32 apiece. It's budgeted for $1,000. Donations also are solicited for basket sponsorships at $25 apiece. Hoffman said the flower basket reserve fund currently has $3,000 in it, but likely will need to be used by next year to replace the golf cart that carries the watering equipment. Hoffman said city employees water the flower baskets on weekdays, but volunteers are needed for Saturdays and Sundays.

• Hoffman said he would again serve as the "de facto committee and parade chair" for the annual Trout Days celebration, set for May 16 to 18. Since Rob Mason moved away, he said an individual is needed to head up Fillmore Street activities, or more than one person could share the position. A Trout Days Committee meeting was to be held on Monday, Jan. 27. Contact the city office for more information if interested in joining the committee.

• Attending the meeting were Mayor Kurt Reicks, Dave Collett, Dave Harrison and Charlie Sparks. Council member Bob Maust was absent.