MPCA rule change could reverse incinerator's fateFor years Red Wing's municipal garbage incinerator has bled red ink across its ledger, but the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is proposing a measure that could reverse the facility's fortunes.
By: Jon Swedien, The Republican Eagle
For years Red Wing's municipal garbage incinerator has bled red ink across its ledger, as city officials have struggled to bring in enough waste to make the facility profitable.
Recently, Red Wing City Council has considered shutting it down.
But the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is proposing a measure that could reverse the incinerator's fortunes.
The agency is considering a policy that would mandate waste from the seven-county metro area be taken to and processed at four designated waste-to-energy facilities -- including Red Wing's incinerator.
The policy would attempt to enforce a 1985 law that calls for waste to be processed instead of land filled.
"I think this would be a great thing for Red Wing, certainly," City Council member Lisa Bayley said of the proposed policy.
On Monday, City Council unanimously approved of a letter of support for the policy.
If the policy were adopted, over 1 million of tons of waste from the metro would be processed at waste-to-energy facilities in Minneapolis, Newport, Minn., Elk River, Minn., and Red Wing. Meanwhile, roughly 500,000 tons of waste from the metro would still go to landfills, according to the MPCA.
City officials have long supported Red Wing's incinerator, which is located on Bench Street. They've noted incineration is considered more environmentally friendly than land filling waste by the MPCA and it doesn't pose the long-term financial risks associated with landfills.
But the incinerator has struggled financially in recent years, losing an average of $500,000 annually. This has perturbed some residents because taxpayer dollars have been used to backfill those loses, which has prompted the council to consider shutting the facility down.
More trash, which the proposed policy promises, would help the operation.
The incinerator is supposed to be supported by fees that waste haulers pay to bring their trash to the facility. But haulers often take their waste to landfills instead, where fees are cheaper.
Based on current fees, about 30,000 tons would generate enough revenue to break even, Public Works Director Rick Moskwa has said.
But the incinerator is expected to only process 23,000 tons of garbage next year, according to Red Wing Deputy Director of Solid Waste Jeff Schneider.
@Sub Heads: On the clock
@Normal1: Two MPCA officials attended Monday's city council meeting to brief the council on the proposed policy.
The proposal is part of the MPCA's review of its metro solid waste management plan. The agency is proposing a host of measures encouraging recycling, waste reduction and waste processing.
While encouraged about the news, council members expressed concern over how long it would take the agency to implement the policy. Because council is currently considering shutting down the incinerator, council members said Monday they hope policy is adopted sooner than later.
"We're hoping months rather than years," Paula Connell, a supervisor in the MPCA's solid waste permitting unit, said Monday.
Council has been looking at a plan where the city would continue to sort waste at its Bench Street facility. But instead of incinerating waste there, it would send processed waste to an Xcel Energy facility to be incinerated.
Bayley said if the policy is adopted and enough waste comes to Red Wing for the operation can break even, it would allow the city to reexamine whether it wants to shut down the incinerator.
"It would definitely give us some breathing room," she said.
A number of city officials have said they'd prefer to keep the incinerator open. But before council can make a decision on the incinerator's future, Bayley said the city would have to see how effective the MPCA's regulations are.
"We don't know how it's going to be enforced," Bayley said.
Connell said the agency is still working on its enforcement strategy. MPCA Planning Director, Sigurd Scheurle said the agency has a plan but needs to see if it will work.
But Schneider said the fact that the agency is talking about adopting the policy is good news.
"I'm encouraged by the MPCA's words and statements," he said. "That they're going to enforce the law."
@Sub Heads: An un-enforced law
@Normal1: In 1985 state lawmakers passed a law calling for the metro's waste to be disposed of at waste processing facilities.
But the law has been little more than words on paper.
"We have not done anything about enforcing the statute until now," Connell said Monday.
Part of the reason for that is the responsibility of enforcing the law has been passed to a number of agencies throughout the years, Connell said.
Meanwhile, Red Wing and Elk River's facilities operate well under their capacities. And some metro counties, including Hennepin and Dakota, didn't renew contracts in 2009 that said they would take their waste to waste-processing facilities. Scheurle said that too has motivated the agency to begin enforcing the law.
"We've waited a long time for this," Council member Carol Duff told the MPCA officials Monday.
While Red Wing city officials are excited about the policy, private haulers and landfills might not be so enthused.
"We've tried to keep that in mind," Scheurle said, adding the MPCA has worked with companies in the industry along with the Metropolitan Council in crafting the policy.
When asked about the policy proposal, Waste Management, a prominent national waste hauling company, issued a statement saying the company supports waste-to-energy facilities.
The statement, given by Government Affairs Director Julie Ketchum, did not take a hard stance on the MPCA's proposed policy. It said the agency's new stance on enforcement should be carefully analyzed and reviewed.