Lawmakers: Analysis needed for garbage burner expansion

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April 25, 2011
By: Nick Halter
Nick Halter
Fourteen Minnesota legislators sent a letter April 14 to Hennepin County Board Chair Mike Opat telling him the county needs to do more due diligence in its quest to burn additional trash at its Downtown incinerator.

Hennepin County is trying to get the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to authorize the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center to burn 11 percent more garbage at its facility next to Target Field in the North Loop.

The plant’s operator, Covanta, began in December filing documents called an Environmental Assessment Worksheet, which could streamline the entire process.

The state legislators, however, say Covanta and the county have been reluctant to truly assess the impact of increased burning on the environment, and they’re demanding that a much more arduous “Environmental Impact Statement” be completed before any expansion takes place.   

All 14 of the legislators represent Minneapolis.

“We’re just saying at this point, let’s stop the charade and do an EIS [Environmental Impact Statement],” said Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-60B).

The Hennepin Energy Recovery 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 proposal would allow for the burning of more than 40,000 additional tons.

The PCA in January sent a letter to Hennepin County saying that the EAW documents the county sent do not, in 27 areas, contain the information needed to continue the process.

“Some of the missing items included critical information on health and safety risks, greenhouse gas emissions, and environmentally preferable alternatives to the proposal,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

Opat said the HERC has always met air quality standards and has diverted Minneapolis residents’ garbage from leaky landfills 30 miles out of the city to an energy-producing facility in town.

“I look at their request as just a pursuit of needless bureaucracy,” he said.

The legislators say they’re not convinced Hennepin County has sufficiently explored recycling and composting as a means of reducing waste burning.

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GLBT Pride Festival fighting Park Board on free speech issue

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and Twin Cities GLBT Pride are at odds over the festival’s attempt to set up a “free speech zone” at Loring Park where groups opposing the festival’s message would be stationed.

GLBT Pride is seeking an exclusive use permit from the Park Board, but Park Board staff has recommended that the Board of Commissioners deny that permit and instead give the organizers the same non-exclusive permit they have had for the past 38 years.

The festival is held the last weekend in June. In 2010, Brian Johnson, a self-described born-again Christian, passed out Bibles and discussed his views against homosexuality. Organizers were unsuccessful in getting a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order against the Hayward, Wis., man.

Pride organizers wrote in their permit application: “Twin Cities Pride has a distinct mission and message, requiring the ability to determine the terms and conditions under which vendors, exhibitors and performers are allowed to access and use the Pride Festival so that they do not advance a message contrary to the mission and message of Twin Cities Pride.”

But Park Board lawyers wrote in a staff memo that Loring Park is a public forum, and the government in a public forum “is strictly limited in its ability to regulate private speech.”

Pride wants to place the free speech zone near the dog park, and Park Board staff’s memo says that would not provide an ample alternative for expression.

Pride, under its usual permit, would still have the right to deny any group from setting up a booth, according to the memo. It could not, however, limit anyone from passing out literature or speaking to people.

The Park Board’s Administrative and Finance Committee was scheduled to discuss the permit application at its April 20 meeting, the same day this issue of The Journal was published.

To see the Pride’s application and the Park Board’s response, go to http://tinyurl.com/3fbq4ad.

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Metro Transit rides increase in first quarter

Metro Transit ridership reached 19.5 million in the first quarter of 2011, up 2 percent from the first quarter of 2010.

Average gas prices during the first quarter in Minnesota rose from about $3.15 a gallon on Jan. 1 to about $3.75 on March 31, according to AAA. A year ago a gallon of gas cost $2.80.

Northstar Commuter Rail ridership jumped 6 percent from the first quarter of 2010, according to Metro Transit’s quarterly report. Express bus ridership was up 3.5 percent; urban local service increased by 2.3 percent and suburban local bus service went up 1.5 percent.

Collective bargaining forum

The League of Women Voters Minneapolis and the Southwest Journal are co-sponsoring a forum on collective bargaining in the wake of recent bill in Wisconsin.

A moderated discussion will follow the presentation.

The event runs from 7 to 8:45 p.m. May 3 at Washburn High School, 201 W. 49th St. The event is free.

Reach Nick Halter at nhalter@mnpubs.com.