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January 31, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
County wants to expand garbage burning

Hennepin County is seeking state and city approval to incinerate 11 percent more garbage in its North Loop plant next to Target Field.

The Hennepin Energy Recover Center currently burns 365,000 tons of garbage annually, generating 220,000 megawatt hours of electricity, or the equivalent of 24,000 homes every day.

The county and the plant’s operator, Covanta, have filed initial information to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency saying that the expanded burning will not pose health risks and will not exceed state air quality standards.

Once the PCA prepares an Environmental Assessment Worksheet, the PCA will take public input before ruling either that the worksheet is sufficient or that Hennepin County must prepare a much more arduous “Environmental Impact Statement.”

If the worksheet is sufficient, Hennepin County will need approval from the Minneapolis Zoning and Planning Committee to amend its conditional use permit. If approved, the incinerator will be operating at its maximum threshold.

The county says expanded burning offers several benefits. It takes 365,000 tons of trash that would have been land filled and instead burns it down to ash, which is only 10 percent of the original volume, said Carl Michaud, director of Hennepin County Environmental Services. That ash is then taken to a landfill in Rosemount.

Michaud also said roughly 40,000 additional tons of trash that would be incinerated generates an additional $1 million in annual revenue to the county through electricity sales and tipping fees. The county is also proposing to add an additional nitrous oxide emission control device at a $2 to $3 million cost.

“[The additional revenue] would be directed to the county’s environmental program, and we would use it most likely for additional recycling and composting programs,” he said, adding that burning garbage offsets the use of fossil fuels.

Michaud said the county has not received complaints from Target Field fans, some of whom worried about the potential for bad smells in the stands.

Opponents, however, argue that the incinerator sends toxins into buildings in downtown Minneapolis where people work and live. They argue that the county should instead concentrate on improving its recycling and composting programs.

According to county documents, Hennepin County has a 50 percent recycling rate. That is up from 22 percent in 1984 and comparable to other major cities like Portland and Seattle. But it also means there is plenty of recyclable waste going into landfills.

“There’s no question about it. Burning garbage emissions cause health risks,” said Leslie Davis, a Minneapolis resident and the president of a group called Earth Protector that has twice filed lawsuits related to the incinerator.

Davis attempted to sue the PCA in the late 1980s, when the plant was proposed. His suit was unsuccessful, and the plant was opened in 1989 with approvals to burn 365,000 tons a year.

“When is a deal a deal?” said Davis, an environmentalist who has run unsuccessfully four times in the Republican and Independent primaries for governor. “They made a deal back then when they got it, that that’s the most they would burn, and that’s when everyone got on board.”

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