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Viewpoint: Time for Goodhue County to revote on Red Wing's garbage-burning scheme

By Alan Muller, Red Wing

For decades, Red Wing has worked to increase the amounts of garbage burned in the city, subjecting residents to increased air pollution and millions in costs, without an offsetting benefit.  As part of this, the city is now smelling victory in a scheme to force all the garbage generated in Goodhue County to be "processed" (ground up) by the city, with most then burned in Xcel's old converted 1940s coal plant on Fifth Street. This dirty burner, with a permit expired since 2009, belches out about 1.5 million pounds per year of health-damaging air pollutants, including over 40 pounds per year, on average, of lead, and over a million pounds per year of "NOx."  

According to the Australian Department of Environment and Energy, "Nitrogen dioxide inflames the lining of the lungs, and it can reduce immunity to lung infections. This can cause problems such as wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis.  Increased levels of nitrogen dioxide can have significant impacts on people with asthma because it can cause more frequent and more intense attacks. Children with asthma and older people with heart disease are most at risk."

The more garbage going in, the more pollutants coming out the smokestacks. Nearby residents are very aware of the dust and smells.

On July 24, the Goodhue County Board voted to approve this scheme, with only Commissioner Barney Nesseth, to his credit, voting "no." Let’s be clear: this is a grant of unregulated monopoly to the city and is likely to prove very expensive in the long run to city and county residents, and to private waste haulers.

One of those voting "yes" was Paul Drotos.

Until recently, Drotos was the city as the environmental officer. Aside from the absurdity of a former environmental officer voting for more air pollution, it's disgraceful for Drotos to have voted to advance the (perceived) interests of his employer and against the health and pocketbooks of those who elected him.

A common excuse for the scam is that in return for it, the state of Minnesota will take on liability for possible leaks at the dump. But the county purchased the dump and associated liabilities, including possible future cleanup costs, from the city for $1 in 1990. So it appears that the county imprudently took on this liability and is now using it as an excuse for further expensive rollovers to the city.

I am not aware that either Red Wing or Goodhue County has truly disclosed these facts, or consulted residents in any meaningful way about whether they want this to go forward. Both need to hear from the public, and the county needs to revisit this issue — with Paul Drotos no voting on it.

There are other bad actors in all this, including Xcel Energy and the so-called Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, that's for another time.

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