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Incinerator decision draws closer

A decision on the future of the city’s incinerator and waste operations could be coming soon.

The Red Wing City Council discussed the issue at a workshop Monday and plans to talk more and take action at its March 24 regular meeting.

The incinerator closed in July for an extended outage while council members mulled over the long-term plan. But time is running down to make that choice.

“The sooner we can make a decision, the sooner we can move forward,” Council Administrator Kay Kuhlmann said. “Right now, I feel like we’re moving down parallel paths.”

There are a variety of factors to consider, many of which are uncertain, staff said.

If the outage lasts more than two years, the Environmental Protection Agency would classify the incinerator as a “new emission source.” That means the site likely would need upgrades and would have to follow stricter standards, public works staff said.

“It’s cost prohibitive, to say the least,” said Jeff Schneider, Red Wing Public Works deputy director of solid waste.

If the city re-opened the site, it would need to spend money starting operations back up and refurbishing.

“It’d be an extensive list of things we’d need to do,” Schneider said.

But closing the incinerator permanently doesn’t come without a price tag either, staff noted. Either option would take significant work and funding, Public Works Director Rick Moskwa said, though continuing incinerator operations would mean ongoing operational costs as well.

There are also environmental considerations, council members said, such as avoiding sending the city’s garbage to a landfill.

“I don’t think we can look at it only from an economic standpoint,” Council member Peggy Rehder said.

The staff recommendation at this point is to keep the city’s incinerator closed and continue sending processed waste to Xcel Energy’s locl steam plant — what the city has been doing during the extended outage.

“The option we’re putting on the table here with Xcel is a viable alternative,” Schneider said, adding it still meets the city’s environmental and economic goals.

Rehder said she is worried about uncertainty with the Xcel contract moving forward, and other council members agreed.

Xcel’s burning operations are tied to a much larger contract, so the city’s piece likely will always be somewhat unstable, staff noted.

Still, indicators such as planned upgrades at the site seem to show Xcel plans to continue its operations for a long time, Moskwa and Schneider said.

The incinerator issue is fraught with unknowns, and those questions likely can’t be answered before the council has to make a decision.

“I can’t give any of you certainty,” Moskwa told council members.

The council asked staff to lay out options in a document that members plan to discuss at their March 24 meeting. They also are aiming to take action on the incinerator then, Council President Lisa Bayley said.

County, city, MPCA plan discussed

City Council members also talked Monday about a potential agreement among the city, Goodhue County and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on solid waste issues.

Goodhue County Public Works Director Greg Isakson presented an outline of the plan, which the County Board discussed last month.

The agreement would involve closing the Bench Street landfill — turning it over to the MPCA — and sending countywide municipal waste to Red Wing, whether it decides to re-open its incinerator or keep working with Xcel.

The city would create a business plan that includes setting a tip fee — what they charge haulers to drop off waste — that covered necessary costs but didn’t make a profit, Isakson said. That number hasn’t been determined yet.

A bill would need to go before the Minnesota Legislature to make the agreement possible, so there is a tight timeline to get it discussed this session, Isakson said. The Legislature must adjourn by May 19.

Council members said they want to keep moving forward on the plan, but said many issues still need to be addressed. For example, they said there need to be shared costs and liability between the city and county.

The council likely will talk about the plan again at its March 24 regular meeting.

Danielle Killey

Danielle Killey covers local government for the South Washington County Bulletin. She has worked as a reporter for other Forum Communications newspapers since 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a journalism degree.

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