A makeover for the garbage burner

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November 9, 2009 // UPDATED 8:55 am - November 9, 2009
By: Amanda Kushner
Amanda Kushner
// Hennepin Energy Recovery Center undergoing landscape improvements in preparation for opening of Target Field //

In efforts to be a good neighbor, Hennepin County is adding new landscaping and site improvements to the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center near the new Target Field.

The ballpark, light rail transit lines and neighborhood are all reasons for the site improvements.

“We are moving from an industrial neighborhood, and now it is residential and commercial with all those condos and continued redevelopments,” said Carl Michaud, director of Hennepin County Department of Environmental Design.

The sustainable landscaping, which will reduce storm water runoff, includes more than 250 trees, 1,375 shrubs and 3,200 perennials. It will be complete in mid-November. The project was designed with the help of a group of University of Minnesota College of design students. The improvements are the first made since the site opened 20 years ago. HERC is a waste-to-energy facility that converts garbage into electricity using mass burn technology. That electricity is then sold to Xcel Energy.

The plantings, visible from the Target Field promenade and Cedar Lake Trail, include birches, cedars and oaks, and the landscaping is trying to imitate native planting in Minnesota, Michaud said. The plants were also picked for their color and durability, he said. Tree Trust, a nonprofit that provides job training for young adults in low-income homes is planting the trees, but October rain slowed the plantings. A total of 57 green jobs were created through the project.

“This is just the first small step into a new frontier,” said Mike Opat, Hennepin County Board chair.

The plantings mimic the old railroad lines that ran east to west on the site and reflect the old historical use of the property before the plant was built. It also mimics the linear design of the operation itself. The waste comes into the plant and goes in a step-by-step fashion through the boiler, through the heat recovery system, through the air solution control system and then out the stacks, Michaud said.

Also Boston Ivy will be grown on the 7th street side near the storm water retention pond, he said.

Site improvements also include moving truck traffic to an adjacent side of HERC. Siding will cover an old entrance that faces the ballpark, and a new high-speed entrance is on a new building side. This will help eliminate odor, but it also reduces noise because when the doors open it’s similar to an echo chamber, Opat said.

Installation of the high-speed doors has helped to reduce odor. In 2004, before the doors were installed, a nasal ranger detected odors at 240 on-site locations and 76 times around the perimeter for the year, said Senior Environmentalist Jake Smith. In 2005, after the doors were installed those numbers decreased to 190 times on site and 60 times on the perimeter. Smith said from April through November the odor is measured using a naval ranger at 13 locations.

The site improvements began in August and cost about $1.9 million, Smith said.

Students inspire design

Hennepin County through the Hennepin-University partnership with the University of Minnesota got a group of students involved in the design. In February 2008 a design charette was held and then Matt Sand, Ashley Sommer, Ben Beery and Cassandra Meyer were hired as graduate research assistants to work on the improvements under Virajita Singh, a senior research fellow. The group created a report, “HERC In My Backyard,” in August 2008.

Sommer was charged with the landscape piece, Meyer focused on a green roof and Sand and Beery worked on the sustainable skin and messaging, Sommer said.

The students researched precedents, available technology, site restrictions at the facility, and eventually created three tiers of design, Sommer said.  

 “It was a great joint effort between the staff and students,” Opat said.

Neighbors in the area are appreciative of the improvements, too.

“Any greening that people in the neighborhood do, especially on so visible a property as this one, is much appreciated and a good thing,” said North Loop Neighborhood Association Chair David Frank.