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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Project Board Chair Fran Miron Responds to Concerns Regarding Trash Processing Facility Buyout


"...seeking out similar answers to similar questions."  - Response from Washington County Commissioner Fran Miron who is the Chair of the RRPB when presented with the following.

Intro:
Washington and Ramsey County are in partnership through the Resource Recovery Project Board (RRPB) and are in the final stage of the two year process evaluating the purchase of the Newport Resource Recovery Facility. Explained in both 

See emails below to read the questions
This Part 3 post is the dialog between the Counties and Washington County Watchdog respectfully trying to get six valid questions answered by Commissioner Miron. Reading from the direction of the last email contact immediately after this paragraph will allow you to easily follow the communication so you can decide for yourself about this serious purchase. Please decide if you also agree with Commissioner Miron and I that the questions you are about to read deserve answers. 


Part of the overwhelming evidence presented to Commissioner Miron below















[Final email, Read first]
To: fran.miron@co.washington.mn.us
Subject: RE: Counties Response to Q/A request
Date: Sun, 5 July 2015 

Commissioner Miron and others CC'd

"seeking out similar answers to similar questions."
Contents: 
The Q&A e-mails and a three part response:
1.) On June 25th we sent six questions regarding the purchase of the Newport Resource Recovery facility and the related hauler mandate specifically requesting you, Commissioner Miron, to please respond by the following week. (message located at the bottom of this email [1st email])
2.) The next day we received a cold response sent on your behalf from an unelected official providing website links as answers to the questions intended for you to respond to. (2nd email from the bottom [2nd email])
3.) We provided a point by point reply to these responses on June 29th explaining why each response was not appropriate. Further explaining we were aware of the data. (third email from the bottom [3rd email]This was evident in each of the six questions. If you respectfully would have read our concerns in  Part 1 and Part 2 as requested you would perhaps understand that. 
4.) On July 2nd you responded still not answering the questions. (fourth email from the bottom [4rth email]).

Please consider the following response:

As Chair of the Ramsey/Washington County Resource Recovery Project board (RRPB) I find your July 2nd response (fourth email from the bottom) very concerning for the following reasons:
1.) Every effort was made to make our concerns clear and provide you opportunity to fairly respond to six fair questions regarding the all but finalized buy out of RRT. Your best final response is you are "seeking out similar answers to similar questions." If you are sincere in this inadequate answer than it's deeply disturbing to know you signed off on the Draft Authorization to Purchase that is being re-worked as the official Authorization to Purchase as we speak. With these unanswered questions it's surprising how anyone in good conscience could advance a massive project like this to the final vote coming up. 
2.) We pointed out the last two meetings in a row where the buyout authorization was to be voted on were canceled deferring to the August 27th meeting. In the same breath you acknowledge the public being shut out of the discussions in this way you state in your email below "We want the public to be engaged and the new dates will be noticed appropriately." The public is not being allowed to be engaged when the board cancels all the meetings except the one that is to hold the final vote (by then being too late). 

You're spending $1.5 million dollars on this buyout decision with heavy emphasis on the buyout decision being the best choice while essentially brushing aside public concern. The RRPB could have held the canceled meetings to invite Foth, Springsted, Stoel Rives, and the unelected joint staff committee who "recommend that the Project Board select the public ownership option" in their May 21st email to you titled "Facility Ownership Decision" Or better yet, it would be great to see you and the members of the board demand answers to these "similar questions" you have at some point very soon. These consultants are being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a month collectively after all.
3.) You state in your July 2nd response below "We would be remiss in making a decision without the added detailed information." I agree. According the the RRPB's August 2012 Processing Agreement the talks on purchasing began over two years ago in March 2013 with the "good faith negotiations." Respectfully, the six questions we all seek and you admit to not having the answers to should have been asked first thing and been answered far sooner than just weeks before the final vote.

It's not too late to start advocating for the citizens, environment, and the haulers by using your chair position on the board to cease talks of buying out this outdated facility and process for handling MSW until we all get answers to these questions. 

Respectfully,
-Matt Behning
at Washington County Watchdog


[4rth Email]

From: Fran.Miron@co.washington.mn.us
Subject:
Date: Thu, 2 Jul 2015 13:06:32 +0000



Mr. Benning,
The decisions made by the Resource Recovery Project Board are based upon information made available to us by staff and contracted consultants to the Project Board.  The previous correspondence in response to your initial inquiry included links to that information under my direction, so that you would have the same information in seeking out answers to your questions as I do in seeking out similar answers to similar questions.
The action taken at the May 28th Project Board meeting allowed for more detailed work to be completed to better yet answer all questions surrounding potential purchase of the RRT Facility.  This additional time and staff work will allow the Board to have more comprehensive information and come to a solid decision on this critical issue. We would be remiss in making a decision without the added detailed information.  The upcoming meeting dates were adjusted to allow for the necessary work to be completed.  We want the public to be engaged and the new dates will be noticed appropriately.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge that the County staff and the consultant staff that are engaged in this project are fully committed to finding the best solution for our citizens.  Our public employees take their role in service to the residents of Washington County (and in this case Ramsey County too) very seriously.  The health, safety and economic considerations for the citizens of our communities are always front and center.  I have deep confidence in the quality of that service.
Thank you once again for your interest in the Resource Recovery Project Board and in the environmental health of our County.
Best Regards,
Fran Miron, Washington County Commissioner
Chair, Resource Recovery Project Board
651-430-6211
Fran.Miron@co.washington.mn.us


[3rd Email]
To: lowell.johnson@co.washington.mn.us; fran.miron@co.washington.mn.us
Subject: RE: Counties Response to Q/A request
Date: Mon, 29 Jun 2015 09:35:33 -0500

Thank you for your time Mr. Johnson in the below reply to the six questions we asked of Commissioner Miron. 

We find it disappointing the questions could not be directly answered. Attempting to answer questions by providing links to one hundred page meeting minutes (that we are very familiar with) and direction to the extremely vague responses on your promotional sites "morevaluelesstrash.com" is insulting. Furthermore it's disturbing to see the RRPB canceled the June 25th meeting and now they've canceled the July 23rd meeting

We most respectfully insist you read Part 1 and Part 2 articles as requested to understand that we are aware of all these sites and the data... Our questions came from the concerns we have of the very sites you provided Mr. Johnson; However, we need Commissioner Miron's responses not yours.

We asked for personal responses from Commissioner Miron because you are the elected official who is the Chair of the RRPB leading the process for Washington County's side as evidenced by his signing of the May 28th Draft Authorization to Purchase that will be put up for vote on the final agreement. 

In all due respect Mr. Johnson, Mrs. Hunter, Mr. Hansen, and others... none of you are elected by the people. You can get away with brushing us off, sending requests for data via snail mail, or simply ignoring our questions as you have with no consequence. You have no incentive to tell us the truth in personalized responses.

Citizens, tax payers, and the livelihood of the 500 local residents involved in the MSW industry in the counties do not deserve this cold response (Source February 26th 2015 RRPB meeting). 

It is up to you Commissioner Miron if you wish to make things right and provide direct answers as requested or if you want to stick with the link responses from Mr. Johnson. Out of respect, we will wait until July 2nd before we issue the full report on the answers. In the interest of truth I've notified the mainstream media and the haulers who've contacted me that you haven't responded yet. We don't think the RRPB and Commissioner Miron realize how bad it looks upon them to answer public outcry with links to board meetings and promotional sites. Eureka and the other environmentalist groups CC'd on this e-mail may not be so kind; but they too await the real answers.

Below are the individual reasons why each response was inadequate (aside from question 4)

If Commissioner Miron refuses to answer, that is his choice. 

Respectfully,
-Matt Behning
at Washington County Watchdog


Refer to our question #1:
We have provided overwhelming evidence of the decline and danger to the environment with the production of RDF at a facility like RRT to have it incinerated and we ask why spend $26.4 million for the facility (+$6.5 on fixes). You provide links stating you "understand that combustion of shredded trash to generate electricity can be improved upon." Again, this is a horrible technology of the 80s that we have no business buying into... if you want to "phase it out" in 3-7 years for its clearly proven financial and environmental risks... why waste $30+ million buying this? Please explain why we can't abandon RDF production and utilize resources towards recycling and the more safe alternative disposal methods for non-proccessable waste? (please read the following articles to provide the most fair responses: Part 1 and Part 2... also, the concerns of the environmentalists in this article)

Refer to our question #2:
We provided overwhelming evidence that haulers will ramp up delivery to Wisconsin to avoid the higher $65/ton tipping fee. Especially Advanced Disposal who has a landfill in Eau Claire they already deliver too. We asked about the likely scenario of even more waste leaving out of state and thus tax payers will be left holding the bag for the six figure fines from Xcel Energy for under delivering RDF. You responded with reference to the MPCA enforcing the hauler mandate... However, you acknowledged in the last meeting on May 28th that this will "Likely will not capture waste currently leaving State" Again, answer question 2: What is your response to the likely scenario of haulers, especially Advanced, going to Wisconsin thus leaving tax payers holding the bag with the six figure fines from Xcel Energy for not delivering enough RDF to burn?

Refer to our question #3
We have provided overwhelming evidence of the $80-$100 tipping fees at the other RRFs in MN and we ask why you think $65/ton will suffice. You provided links to a report that says you're continuing to move forward with the purchase based on blind estimates from Foth as they clearly admit: "Because the Project does not have actual figures, it has had to prepare estimated operating costs" (source p. 8 of the Foth Financial Analysis Report) Again, directly answer question 3: What is your response to tax payers who find your $65/ton plan is inadequate to self fund the Newport Facility as promised, leaving tax payers the burden of paying for it? 

Refer to our question #4:
We have provided overwhelming evidence that increased tipping fees, whether $65/ton or the standard $80- $100/ton in the State, will be passed on the the customers. You confirm through a link that generators (customers) will absorb this cost. Furthermore, it appears the CEC... or the 35% garbage tax will continue. So unless corrected, the answer to question 4 is "yes, tax paying residents and businesses are going to get slammed with the increased costs when the government takes over the Newport Facility."

Refer to our question #5:

We provided a resource that states the entire scope and plan will be $170,000,000 based on the calculations of the local non-profit Eureka Recycling in their articleYou respond stating they are incorrect but don't correct what the total cost truly is in proof of an itemized list. None of the three links you provided for the answer gave dollar figures on the cost. Furthermore you didn't answer the question: "why not take the advice of experienced experts in recycling like Eureka to promote private sector partnered solutions that are tens of millions of dollars more affordable and proven to increase recycling?"

Refer to our question #6:
We contacted Sigurd Scheurle, the MN Pollution Control Agency State Planning Director about your plan to implement Mixed Waste Processing MWP to remove a small percentage of recylables from MSW. The Director stated the process was difficult and more costly. Going on to say "I personally believe that convenient services to people and robust public information offer the best hope for behavior changes that increase the source separation of materials including organic waste, recyclables, and toxic and hazardous waste. We highlighted the extreme imbalance of investing over $227 million for RDF production and incineration while only investing $20 million on recycling promotion during that same time period of 28 years. We asked "Why not take the Director of the MPCA's advice and invest in the neglected effort of providing "convenient services to people and robust public information" to achieve recycling goals and thus decline in waste being put into incinerators and landfills?You responded with a link to the waste hierarchy that just provided the talking points on investing in recycling. 


[2nd Email]
From: Lowell.Johnson@co.washington.mn.us
Subject: Resource Recovery
Date: Fri, 26 Jun 2015 21:14:10 +0000

Matt,  
On behalf of Commissioner Fran Miron,
Thank you for your email.  Information you requested can be found at:
http://www.co.ramsey.mn.us/recovery/index.htm
or
http://morevaluelesstrash.com/
Specific links are also provided below.
1)      Question 1
a.       System Change: http://ramseyatoz.co.ramsey.mn.us/documents/4-23-15_rrp_meeting_materials.pdf  - Agenda item II.A.i. 
b.      Scope for resource management discussion and approval: http://ramseyatoz.co.ramsey.mn.us/documents/9-25-14_rrp_board_materials.pdf.  Presentation on: http://www.co.ramsey.mn.us/NR/rdonlyres/C85E23D9-EF87-4CAB-9FDF-55AC7A61551A/39544/policy_evaluation_progress_report_final.pptx.
c.       75% Recycling Goal: http://morevaluelesstrash.com/#/meeting-75-recycling-goal/
d.      Fact Sheets:
          i.      http://morevaluelesstrash.com/fact-sheet-cty-master-plans
          ii.      http://morevaluelesstrash.com/fact-sheet-hierarchy
          iii.      http://morevaluelesstrash.com/fact-sheet-reduce-reuse-recycle
          iv.      http://morevaluelesstrash.com/fact-sheet-tech
2)      Report on Waste Designation: http://www.co.ramsey.mn.us/NR/rdonlyres/C85E23D9-EF87-4CAB-9FDF-55AC7A61551A/36779/22014_board_materials.pdf - See page 21.
3)      Life cycle financial analysis Report: http://www.co.ramsey.mn.us/NR/rdonlyres/C85E23D9-EF87-4CAB-9FDF-55AC7A61551A/41165/life_cycle_financial_analysis1.pdf.
4)      Generator Pays discussion - http://www.co.ramsey.mn.us/NR/rdonlyres/C85E23D9-EF87-4CAB-9FDF-55AC7A61551A/41168/22615_board_materials.pdf - Financial Analysis Report – Page 46
5)     The Eureka information is incorrect, and the correct information is in these fact sheets:
a.       http://morevaluelesstrash.com/fact-sheet-rwc
b.      http://morevaluelesstrash.com/fact-sheet-hierarchy
c.       http://morevaluelesstrash.com/fact-sheet-reduce-reuse-recycle
6)      Waste Hierarchy: http://morevaluelesstrash.com/#/wastehierarchy/

[1st Email]
To: fran.miron@co.washington.mn.us
Subject: Six Q/A on Resource Recovery Buyout from Com. Miron
Date: Thu, 25 Jun 2015 08:08:14 -0500

Dear Commissioner Miron (and others CC'd)

With utmost respect for your elected position please understand that many citizens feel you and the Resource Recovery Project Board (RRPB) need to please hear the citizen concern regarding the buyout of the Newport RRF and provide us a response. 

With no intent to lecture you, could you please read the following and respond to each of the six questions we have? Explanation would be appreciated as concerned citizens who understand the implications of the buyout are far greater than what is reported in the media as something of routine County business.  

We seek your response Commissioner Miron because you are the signer of the May 28th Draft Authorization to Purchase that will be put up for vote on July 23rd as the final agreement. 

Citizens ranging from fiscal conservatives to environmentalists to regular citizens fear the immense cost and inefficient and harmful practice of creating RDF to incinerate is not the proper or responsible course to achieve the MPCA's 75% recycling compliance goal from our current 50% standing.

The RRPB voted 7-2 to move forward with the buyout decision and there are major concerns we would like for you to acknowledge and preferably respond to. This is especially appreciated as the public is shut out of the now canceled meeting that was supposed to occur today (June 25th). It is the least you could do.

1.) Production of RDF (refuse derived fuel) for incineration is a harmful solution for waste disposal that is now being quickly abandoned as no new facilities have been built since the late 90s according to the EPA. In fact, their numbers are on the decline from 171 in 1991 to only 89 in 2004. Plastics, paper, and other recyclables are included in RDF and do not increase recycling. Without going off topic on us about landfills. Please explain why we can't abandon RDF production and utilize resources towards recycling and the more safe alternative disposal methods for non-proccessable waste? (please read the following articles to provide the most fair responses: Part 1 and Part 2... also, the concerns of the environmentalists in this article)

2.) There is a giant elephant in the room called the Interstate Commerce act of 1887. After reading the three articles, Please address the concern that the RRPB's Waste Designation Assurance Plan may not work.  Historically local mandates to sway private sector behavior in the free market do not work. The board's simple plan to mandate haulers to deliver to Newport for an increase in tipping fees from apx $50/ton to $65+ dollars a ton at their own cost (as the rebates will expire) is bold. In the free market system logic tells us haulers like Advanced Disposal will avoid this massive cost burden and haul to their Eau Claire Wisconsin landfill and keep their prices low. Putting pressure on the competition to find Wisconsin or Iowa alternates also. Thankfully the constitution protects the Interstate Commerce laws and the American Free Market. What is your response to the likely scenario of haulers, especially Advanced, going to Wisconsin thus leaving tax payers holding the bag with the six figure fines from Xcel Energy for not delivering enough RDF to burn?

3.) Currently the Newport facility charges $86/ton tipping fee. The RRPB plan is to lower it to $65/ton to avoid haulers justifying traveling to nearby Wisconsin to keep their apx $50/ton tipping fee. RRT never opened their books to prove their profits and you assume they were taking $21/ton profit to justify the cut to $65/ton you think will sustain the Newport RRF. However, as our fully sourced evidence shows the five remaining Government owned RRFs in MN charge $80 to $100/ton and still lose hundreds of thousands a year in deficits... the tipping fee exception is Hennepin County who charges $60/ton; however they lose $1.8 million dollars a year! (fully sourced in our Part 2 article). The RRPB promises it can not only pay for all the capital costs... but also the operating costs and the future upgrades for things like Gasification. What is your response to tax payers who find your $65/ton plan is inadequate to self fund the Newport Facility as promised, leaving tax payers the burden of paying for it? 

4.) Whether the RRPB keeps the $65/ton tipping fee promise or likely ramps it up to the State standard of $80-$100/ton it still leaves the haulers passing the massive cost increase on to the customers. Customers who are still paying the 35% garbage tax to the board and for a system that does not increase recycling participation, nor has it measurably in the last half a dozen+ years. The RRPB website promises that the buyout will lower costs. What evidence do you have for tax paying residents and businesses that we're not going to get slammed with the increased costs when the government takes over the Newport Facility?

5.) The local non-profit, Eureka Recycling, calculated the total cost of the RRPB's Scope and plan for the Newport facility take over at $170,000,000 in their article. In our findings we found the calculation to be accurate.  Aside from small gains with labor intensive and massively expensive ideas such as "Mixed Waste Processing" that at most increases the recycling goal by 5.9%... why not take the advice of experienced experts in recycling like Eureka to promote private sector partnered solutions that are tens of millions of dollars more affordable and proven to increase recycling?

6.) In an e-mail we received in January from Sigurd Scheurle, the MN Polution Control Agency State Planning Director had this to say about the labor intensive practice of removing recyclables after they've been put into the trash as you plan to implement with Mixed Waste Processing (MWP):  "if waste materials that are recyclable are instead placed in MMSW by the waste generator, then recovering potentially recyclable materials becomes more difficult and more costly." We responded asking what the most cost effective way to achieve the 75% recycling goal would be if chasing recyclables out garbage with MWP is difficult and costly... the Director responded: "I personally believe that convenient services to people and robust public information offer the best hope for behavior changes that increase the source separation of materials including organic waste, recyclables, and toxic and hazardous waste." Considering the past 28 years and the $227+ million dollars to subsidize RDF and incineration in Newport and only $20 million being put towards recycling promotion during that time comparatively... Why not take the Director of the MPCA's advice and invest in the neglected effort of providing "convenient services to people and robust public information" to achieve recycling goals and thus decline in waste being put into incinerators and landfills?


Again, we appreciate your response to each of the six questions (perhaps in line after each question in a reply). It is the least you could do to make up for the act of canceling the last public opportunity to voice concern on this very day of June 25th.

Considering the time sensitive nature of this subject and hauler liberties that are at stake, please reply within one week. We have cc'd all the fellow board members, local environmental groups who are opposed to the buy out, and the local media contacts who may also anticipate your response to consider covering the buyout from a more cautious perspective. So please "reply all" in your response should you hopefully decide to respond.

If after a week you choose not to respond we'll post the questions in full for the public that you decided not to respond.

Thank you,
-Matt Behning
at Washington County Watchdog