County suspends plans for NE hazardous waste facility

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August 16, 2013
By: Mike Munzenrider
The county has scrapped plans for now for a hazardous waste facility at 27th & University Avenue NE.
Mike Munzenrider

In the July issue of her online newsletter, Hennepin County Commissioner Linda Higgins made a one-sentence announcement on page three that was quite significant news to some.

It read, in bold: “We’re suspending work on the proposed household hazardous waste site at 27th and University NE, and the County is currently exploring options.”

The announcement is the latest development in a long-running debate about the placement of the site in Northeast, which rallied neighborhood activists to form the group, Don’t Dump on Northeast (DDONE), aligned against the Hennepin County facility.

While the announcement could be seen as a victory for DDONE, the case is not quite closed on what will happen at 340 27th Ave NE.

“We went back and looked at the numbers, and I was very cognizant of some of the neighbors that had been opposed to it and started thinking about other options,” Higgins said.

Higgins said the county has identified another location for the household hazardous waste site that may “work,” though she said the county is “in the very preliminary stages of looking.” She declined to say where.

Asked if the suspension of work meant the final word on the site, Higgins reiterated, “It means it’s suspended.”

City Council Member Kevin Reich (1st Ward) said that while the plan for the facility was “at the point of final design phase,” it needed “further due diligence on an alternative cite, alternative budgeting.”

Reich explained that site analysis for such a facility, which would be a drop-off point for household waste like electronics that contain mercury, paint and lawn care products, began in 2005.

The City of Minneapolis purchased the property on which the facility would sit in 2010, and Reich said that while work there is suspended, the city has no definite plans for the site, and will wait the process out.

“We’re just being patient partners,” he said. “What’s a year or so amongst friends?”

Hennepin County currently operates two household hazardous waste facilities, one in Brooklyn Park and one in Bloomington. While areas nearby the facilities use them at a modestly respectable rate — 30 to 40 percent of households, according to 2011 Hennepin County data —the usage rate for much of Minneapolis is in the single digits.

Planning for a hazardous household waste facility, which would more directly serve Minneapolis, began in 2004. Early plans for the facility held that it would also replace Minneapolis’ Southside Transfer Station, which processes home remodeling debris and furniture, as well as taking overflow trash from the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center.

That original three-part-plan for the facility was whittled down to only a hazardous household waste site because of zoning issues and neighborhood resistance from groups like DDONE.

For now, the county will continue to hold free household hazardous waste collection events at various locations.

While the suspension of work on the household hazardous waste facility at 27th and University NE does not mean the issue is resolved, it is a pause in a long, contentious discussion.

DDONE supporters have expressed satisfaction in the recent developments, though there’s recognition that “suspended” means suspended.

“While that site is not yet a done deal, this is all certainly very positive news,” Bruce Shoe wrote on the DDONE Facebook page.

“My impression is that Linda Higgins is really enthusiastic about the idea of siting (sic) this facility in a place where it would be less controversial,” he wrote. “I suggest that DDONE supporters consider writing her to thank her for listening to our concerns and then responding with substantive action!”