Statewide: August 4, 2011 Archive
Posted at 4:24 PM on August 4, 2011
by Mark Steil
(Photo courtesy of the Pipestone County Star)
The big manufacturing plant on the edge of Pipestone sits empty. Once a major employer in the southwest Minnesota community, there's no indication the Suzlon company plans to reopen the site, which used to make blades for wind turbines.
Opened in late 2006, at its peak the plant employed about 500 people. It closed at the end of last year.
No one has heard from the company in months. The only sign that Suzlon is still connected with the community is a sign outside the shuttered plant, a few maintenance workers inside, and a recent filing in state district court in Pipestone.
The district court filing is leftover business from the days when Suzlon played a major role in the region's economy. It's the final legal page in a squabble between Suzlon and the state over pollution problems at the plant.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency received a tip that Suzlon was operating a messy plant. When agency investigators looked into the matter, they found the India-based company was sandblasting without proper permits, and improperly storing and disposing of hazardous waste.
Among the issues: the company was dumping damaged turbine blades in a landfill. The blades contained lead.
As part of the court settlement, Suzlon will pay the state a $490,000 penalty. It's the second time the company paid up. In 2008 it was a $19,000 penalty for failing to get an air quality permit.
If Suzlon does decide to reopen the plant, it will have some more work to do on the pollution front. The company needs to apply for updated permits, write a storm water pollution prevention plan, and properly dispose of the lead.
Suzlon has not commented on the state penalties.
Pipestone leaders still hope the plant re-opens and the jobs come back. But so far, company offfcials have not given any indication they're close to making that possibility come true.
A former Red Wing High School student who claims a Homecoming event was emotionally painful, had good reason to wait two years to sue for race discrimination, her lawyer said.
Former student Quera Pruitt, who is African-American, claims officials in the mostly-white school didn't prevent students from holding a non-sanctioned event called "Wigger Day" in 2009, even though such events had previously occurred. (Read the lawsuit here)
'Wigger' is a play on a racial slur, and is slang for a white person who dresses and acts in stereotypical ways associated with African-American culture. For example, Pruitt claims in the lawsuit that white students dressed in baggy clothes and flashed gang signs.
But why wait two years to file suit?
For one, lawyer Joshua Williams said, Pruitt suffered from depression as a result of the event.
"She was pretty down, and it's only now that she feels she's in a position psychologically where she can engage and proceed with litigation," he said.
But even more important, Williams said, is that Pruitt did not receive a finding from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights until June 3. That finding found 'probable cause' that unfair discrimination occurred.
"Now that we also have a probable cause determination, we believe that bolsters our case. We're really in a good position to move forward," Williams said.
District leaders are not granting interviews to the media on the matter. Instead, they've released a statement, which reads:
"Independent School District #256, Red Wing, Minnesota has been and continues to be committed to providing an education to its students that is free from discrimination and harassment based upon race or otherwise. The district denies the allegations that it has created a racially hostile environment and looks forward to meeting these allegations in court. Since this concerns pending litigation, the district has no further comment at this time."
According to state figures, Red Wing High School had an enrollment of 879 during the 2009-2010 school year. Of those, 26 students (3 percent) were African-American and 779 (89 percent were white.