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Red Wing incinerator options under review

Red Wing's garbage incinerator has been a key point in budget and policy discussions for years, and Red Wing City Council is continuing to explore options before making any final decisions.

The incinerator, located on Bench Street, takes up an average of about $500,000 from the city's general fund each year, but burning trash is considered a more environmentally friendly alternative to landfills.

A main problem for the city's incinerator operations has been a lack of waste, said Jeff Schneider, deputy director of solid waste. Haulers often take their garbage to landfills, where it's cheaper for them.

"Like any other business, (haulers) are going to choose what's in their best interest," Schneider said at a City Council workshop Monday to discuss solid waste issues. "But what's good for a hauler is not necessarily good for the public or community."

It's also more expensive in general to run Red Wing's type of operation than a landfill, Schneider said.

However, the city could change the funding structure of the incinerator, he said; rather than trying to make money from the operation, the city would pay for the incinerator much like it does for services such as the fire department and library.

Council member Peggy Rehder said she considers the incinerator a part of public safety and a service.

Exploring options

Other similar facilities in Minnesota have systems set up for waste assurance - guaranteeing certain waste will come through the facility - Schneider said. These are often organized through contracts with haulers or county ordinances, he said.

But Goodhue County has resisted such a system, city council members say.

The MPCA is exploring a policy requiring waste from the seven-county metro area be taken to nearby waste-to-energy facilities such as Red Wing's incinerator.

The policy would be a way to enforce a 1985 state statue calling for waste to be processed instead of put in landfills, which hasn't been enforced in the past.

The Red Wing facility has the potential to increase the volume of waste it processes without increasing staff or operations, Schneider said. The city alone would not produce enough waste for the incinerator, Public Works Director Rick Moskwa said.

The city currently charges haulers $62 per ton of waste taken to the facility, called a tip fee, Schneider said. The price is low to compete with alternatives like landfills, he said, but isn't enough to break even.

"I think you'll have to consider raising the tip fee regardless of your decision," Schneider told council members.

Options for the incinerator range from keeping the operation the same to closing the facility, and measures in between such as cutting hours or changing services.

But many of the options rely on variables outside the city's hands, Moskwa said.

"We can't control what the state does and we can't control what the county does," he said.

Monday's discussion was mainly about policy, not budgets. Moskwa said he wanted the council to look at potential paths for the incinerator before exploring possible costs and savings of the various options. That information will come next, he said.

But any decision will carry a cost, along with long-term effects, he said. For example, shutting down the incinerator would virtually eliminate any chance to reopen in the future.

Still, some council members think the time to determine the incinerator's fate is drawing near.

"I know it's a tough decision," Council member Dean Hove said, "but we're going to have to make it at some point."

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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