Plan to burn more garbage downtown gets delayed again

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February 28, 2013
By: Nick Halter
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Nick Halter
It will be at least several more months — and perhaps over a year — before the city of Minneapolis makes a final decision on a proposal to burn more garbage downtown

It will be at least several more months — and perhaps over a year — before the city of Minneapolis makes a final decision on a proposal to allow Hennepin County to burn more garbage at its downtown incinerator.

The city’s Zoning and Planning Committee today voted to delay any decision on the increased burning until Hennepin County and Covanta Energy finish their environmental review process with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

That review could be done as early as this spring, or could last even longer if the state decides the project needs a more thorough review.

The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center, located near Target Field, burns about 365,000 tons of garbage each year. Under Hennepin County’s proposal, it would burn an additional 40,000 tons of trash annually. County officials argue that it would keep that extra garbage out of landfills and increase revenue through electricity sales.

The Minneapolis Planning Commission rejected the proposal back in 2009. Hennepin County appealed the decision to the city’s Zoning and Planning Committee, and the committee told the County it would not make a decision until the environmental review process was complete.

After a dozen extensions and three years, the project’s environmental review has not been completed.

Steve Sommer, principle planner Minnesota PCA, said he believes the project’s Environmental Assessment Worksheet will be complete “sometime this spring.” Even if the EAW is complete, a PCA citizen’s committee may force the project to complete a more arduous Environmental Impact Statement, which could take a year. 

Some officials have demanded that Hennepin County go through with the EIS. 

Zoning and Planning Chair Gary Schiff (Ward 9) brought up the idea of requesting Hennepin County withdraw its request and start over.  It could be 2014 before environmental review is complete, and by that time the Planning Commission that made the decision will have many new faces.

Cam Gordon (Ward 2) suggested the same.

“It just makes sense that we should hit the reset button,” Gordon said.

Carl Michaud, director of Hennepin County Environmental Services, said the county wants to continue with the appeal and said the PCA could answer questions about why the environmental review is taking so long.

“They’ve got all the information as far as I know that they need to do the work,” Michaud said.

Sommer said the EAW process usually takes about five months. The incinerator project has taken longer because of changes to federal modeling standards, the proposal of the Interchange project near Target Field, which will add a plaza near the incinerator, and incomplete information from Convanta.  

“They’ve provided information, but it’s like we get parts of it, but not all of it,” Sommer said. “Then we get a little bit here, a little bit there, and that’s taken a long time.”

A handful of residents showed up at the meeting to speak against the expansion. They asked the city to deny the project because it would increase the amount of toxins released from the facility, which was built in the mid-1980s.