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New ice arena rules could cost city

Sometimes, the actions -- or, inactions -- of a few can have a huge effect on the many.

That seems to be the case with air quality control issues at ice arenas around the state. A couple months back, an ice skater became ill from breathing carbon monoxide generated by an ice resurfacer. Now, several state legislators are calling for new controls that local parks and recreation director Randy Distad expects to come without state funding to help pay for them.

Called the Ice Arena Air Quality Mandate, the bill was introduced in March. In its earliest form, it called for almost immediate controls including the installation of electronic air monitoring devices by the beginning of 2011.

It's been scaled back a bit since it was originally proposed. Under the current form, the bill requires all ice facilities to be licensed by Jan. 1, 2011. Arenas that have electric ice resurfacers would be charged $100; places like Farmington, where the ice resurfacer is powered by propane, would be charged $200 annually.

But there's more. Right now, the proposed bill requires each facility to have a trained, licensed indoor air quality operator, and for that individual to be on duty whenever a facility is in use. Since ice time at the Schmitz-Maki Ice Arena sometimes starts at 5 a.m. and continues though midnight, that could get to be a long day for just one person. There is the option of certifying each employee, Distad said, but that certification also comes with a cost. Plus, with the bill in its infant form, the regulations haven't been worked out yet.

"I don't think certification is a bad thing, but to require everybody on staff to have it is a little bit burdensome," Distad said.

Another part of the proposed bill requires all gas-powered equipment to have a three-way catalytic converter installed. Farmington's ice resurfacer runs on propane, but, according to ice arena manager Jeremy Pire, it already has a three-way catalytic converter on it.

The Schmitz-Maki ice resurfacer is only a few years old. The city traded in an older resurfacer four years ago to pick up the one in use now, and still paid $80,000 for the equipment. New, electric resurfacers are the preferred style under the proposed bill, but a new one runs about $120,000, Pire said. And usually, the life span of an ice resurfacer is about 12 years.

That doesn't necessarily work with the proposed bill's target of having electric-powered equipment in all arenas by 2015. In that case, when a facility still has gas-powered equipment in place come Jan. 1, 2015, the bill would require the purchase and installation of a new air quality monitoring and ventilation system.

Chances are good the bill will reduce the amount of carbon allowed in the air, too. Currently, the state standard is 30 parts per million; the new bill proposes dropping that amount to 12.5 ppm.

Farmington city staff take the air quality at Schmitz-Maki Ice Arena pretty seriously. Already, staff members do monthly readings on the air quality, and the state comes in for inspections on a quarterly basis.

"It's been open 35 years, and we haven't ever had anybody call the health department and say we're getting sick from the air at the ice arena," Distad said. "I think the current system is working just fine. There's were just a couple of places that were not following the law, so the rest of us are paying for it now."

The replacement of the ice making equipment at Schmitz-Maki Arena started this week. At one point, Distad asked if it would pay to have a new air monitoring system put in while the work is being done this summer. The project engineer advised against that, simply because the law and its requirements have not been finalized.

Still, Pire and Distad are keeping close tabs on the discussions being held at the state level. Should the proposed bill become law, Distad knows there will be a financial impact on the city of Farmington - he just doesn't know what that impact will be, because he doesn't know what will be required.

"Right now, it's not a law, but if it does become one, it could financially hit the city and arena's budgets," Distad said. "What we're looking at, again, is an unfunded mandate."

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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