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Good Neighbor Agreements

Justin Eibenholzl
Southeast Como Improvement Association

Fact: In 2004, over 12 million pounds of Toxic Chemicals were released into Minnesota’s air.

– MN Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Program

If a neighboring business or facility is of concern in a community due to noise, pollution or other environmental complaints, the neighborhood residents may decide that they would like to approach the business in order to address those concerns. Establishing dialogues that lead to a good neighbor agreement is one approach to resolving these issues.

Definition

A Good Neighbor Agreement is generally a non-binding agreement between a neighborhood (community) and an industry which works to address specific issues of concern in a collaborative way. It is a way for each group to understand the other’s mission and point of view, and results in some form of compromise which can benefit both groups. This approach encourages voluntary actions instead of the more lengthy legal challenges which may otherwise result. It is often best attempted during a permit renewal or some other change at the facility where the company is seeking community approval for their activities.

Resources needed

A community will need to have an organized group of volunteers and/or staff that can meet regularly to define the outcomes and specific issues with the facility or facilities of interest; this group could be an environmental committee or a neighborhood board, as two examples. It is usually best to have at least one person to gather some preliminary information about the industry from public documents and data searches. The more targeted the outcome, the more limited the research needs to be. A community will be in a better position for bargaining if they have a decent understanding of what the business does, and their concerns will be taken more seriously if they have done some research. The best source of information is the industry itself: perhaps the group can arrange a tour, or the company may send a representative to meet with the group. Direct contacts such as these are desirable and can save the group many hours of research time, granted the company is willing to share information. We have had some success in gaining information this way. Information on chemical releases and storage is available on-line (see Resources Box) and can be accessed fairly easily. It may also be worthwhile to review any city, state and federal permits the company holds. Most of these require an appointment with the regulatory agency, but some items can be sent directly to the requestor.

Outcome desired

Outcomes will vary from group to group and community to community. Generally, a basic outcome would be to establish at least one meeting where neighborhood and industry stakeholders are present to discuss important issues in the community. Some businesses will be willing to work with a community outside the framework of an official agreement and this can also be a desired outcome. Since the good neighbor agreements are voluntary, if a business agrees to address the communities concerns without an agreement, important goals can still be reached. Local examples of agreements have aimed to reduce air emissions, share public filings, and provide information about job opportunities with the local community. See the website of the Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network for more info (nextstep.state.mn.us).

Time

This may also vary from group to group; some agreements can be reached with minimal discussion and happen in a matter of months where others may take years to make even incremental steps forward. The group will have better success if it remains committed to a positive outcome and if its members have time to dedicate to this project every month.

Examples

Good Neighbor Agreement between Ritrama Inc. and Southeast Como Improvement Association, Prospect Park East River Road Improvement Association, Mississippi Corridor Neighborhood Coalition, and St. Anthony Park Community council. Contact: Justin Eibenholzl, 612-676-1731, email: envirocoordinator@secomo.org

Web Resources

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Good Neighbor Agreements
www.nextstep.state.mn.us/res_detail.cfm?id=629

Toxic Release Inventory (TRI)
www.epcra.state.mn.us/tri/index.asp

Print Resources

The Good Neighbor Handbook, A Community-based Strategy for Sustainable Industry, Sanford J. Lewis, Apex Press, 1995.

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