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Column: Solid waste designation is complicated

By Greg Isakson, Goodhue County Public Works Director

Goodhue County sent out notice of a public hearing to gather the public's testimony on designating all mixed municipal solid waste (commonly referred to as trash) generated in Goodhue County be sent to the Red Wing Solid Waste Campus. That hearing will be 9 a.m. Jan. 8, 2019, in the Government Center boardroom. The purpose of this article is to give the public additional information concerning this designation. The county has been working with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the city of Red Wing for a decade to find a solution for handling the county's trash in a manner that is acceptable to all parties. Counties are required by the MPCA to have an approved Solid Waste Plan. State law prioritizes how solid waste is to be managed with most preferred to least preferred being: reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, waste to energy, and landfilling. The MPCA requires counties to support this hierarchy in their plans.

State requirements

Legislation passed in 2014 allows additional landfills to enter the state's Closed Landfill Program. This program has not accepted new landfills for years. To be eligible, a landfill would need to stop accepting waste by Jan. 1, 2019. The landfill also would need to be located in a county that meets all applicable state required recycling goals and has arranged that all trash generated in the county be delivered to and processed by a resource recovery facility located in the county for at least 20 years.

Goodhue County's Bench Street Landfill in Red Wing can meet these requirements and the Red Wing Solid Waste Campus is the only such facility located in Goodhue County. The Red Wing Solid Waste Campus is one of the few resource recovery facilities in the state that can meet the MPCA's goals and processes trash into refuse-derived fuel or RDF so it can be used as "waste to energy." Currently, a majority of the trash created in the county goes to this facility where material that can be recycled or composted is removed prior to being sent through a shredding process that creates RDF. This material is then sent to the Xcel Waste to Energy facility in Red Wing or similar facilities in Barron County, Wis., and Olmsted County, Minn., where it is incinerated to produce electrical energy that we all benefit from. Processing trash costs more than simple landfilling.

The County Board can direct trash to be sent to Red Wing's facility so it can be processed and used as a "waste to energy" fuel through a designation ordinance.

Long-term costs

The unlined Bench Street Landfill has been continually monitored, for many years, to track the progression of harmful contaminants that are known to leak from landfills. The cost of this monitoring is expected to increase substantially if the county keeps ownership. While the Bench Street Landfill has not leaked harmful contaminants in amounts requiring a cleanup event, the possibility of that happening is ever present.

Examining "if" there exists a potential for an old landfill to leak harmful contaminants is more of a matter of "when will contamination will be found," "where will it have moved to" and "how much will it cost to clean up" than "if." Transferring the Bench Street Landfill from Goodhue County to the Closed Landfill Program or CLP would transfer future cleanup and liability costs to the state instead of just the county citizens.

Winona County owned a landfill that it transferred into the CLP. Between 2001 and 2017, the MPCA's CLP spent approximately $14.6 million on the cleanup. MPCA staff estimate that is more than all the tipping fees paid to dispose of trash at the landfill. In the future, MPCA has perpetual care obligations for groundwater monitoring, maintenance, cleanup of offsite pollution, and disposal of liquid waste water leaching out of all of the landfills in the CLP.

Collection and disposal

Inherently, the proposed change to how trash is managed in Goodhue County brings with it a lot of questions. Cost — as it relates to individual bills and tipping fee to dump waste — by far tops the list. To be able to answer the question of individual billing costs is not something that can be done without speaking to your service provider. The proposed tipping fee for all licensed haulers in Goodhue County will be $108 per ton of trash at the Red Wing Solid Waste Campus and will impact many haulers' disposal costs.

Simply put, garbage collection by haulers comprises two components: collection and disposal. The disposal cost will be a fixed amount (tipping fee) and the collection amount (cost to pick up garbage) will vary depending on your provider. With haulers' trash disposal costs fixed, collection costs will vary depending on the hauler's specific operations and business plan. On Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, a hearing will be held to take testimony from citizens concerning solid waste designation. Information gathered will be considered by commissioners as they take another step in the process of Goodhue County potentially adopting a solid waste ordinance. A key but difficult issue is comparing the current additional cost to process trash into RDF (vs. simply landfilling) against the costs to all the citizens of Goodhue County for increased monitoring, maintenance and possible cleanup of the Bench Street Landfill.