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Thursday, June 4, 2015

7 to 2 vote, Washington/Ramsey County to Take Over Private Sector Garbage Processing

3-8-16: Washington/Ramsey County Garbage Processing Plant, 6 Months In; Failing? Counties Refuse to Answer.




8-30-15 update: The board passed the plan with the buyout of Newport plant for a slightly reduced price of $24.4 million instead of the supposedly "binding" $26.4 million from the two year long arbitration battle in court. RRT and their financier Merced Capital have not responded to state how this was possible. The vote passed 6-1 with Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel being the only no vote. Aside from his vote here and on May 28th he's never voted against the plan before ie: funding the over $1.8 million (latest figure) to pay for planning the buyout. Kriesel is up for election in 2016 and always campaigns that he's a fiscally responsible with tax dollars. Also note County Debt has Tripled under Commissioner Kriesel's term with not a word, let alone a plan to do anything but apparently kick the can down the road. So be cautious to interpret these votes as anything more than political pandering. Kriesel has not responded to to inquiry regarding these votes for us.

Also don't forget the real cost of the facility has many strings attached: ie:
***Upfront cost: before anything can begin the RRF needs immediate facility improvements ($6.65 million) to replacing aging equipment and pay for basic renovations. (Under the RRPB document Titled Achieving the Scope through Public or Private Ownership under "Financial Analysis of Options" p. 31 of adobe file)***  (posted this in The $170 Million Dollar Washington/Ramsey County Plan to Take Over Private Sector Garbage Processing)


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The evolution of the industry in Washington County:
In the 80s burning garbage in mass burn incinerators was viewed a cure all solution to combat the problem of what was open pit landfill use at the time. The dangers of both practices were not well understood back then. Landfills used little if any liners and water tables were polluted as a result. 

Today the industry has completely reformed. The Minnesota Polution Control Agency ranks Resource Recovery which is really incinerating garbage down to number 3 (MPCA 2010-2030 policy plan). Recycling is promoted and today's safe landfills (picture below) with methane gas recovery are preferred over incinerators by dedicated environmental groups like the Serra Club. The groups fight to stop the dangerous 30 year old technology of trash incinerators. And they've been successful as no new incinerators have been built since 1997 according the their EPA sourced site! According to BioCycle Magazine in 1991 there were 171 incinerators, in 2002 there were 107, and in 2004 there were only 89.

In the 80s the $28/ton cost to sort municipal waste for our relatively small population at the time was considered worth the cost. Especially considering the perceived benefit of generating electricity by burning the sorted garbage (RDF) over putting the waste into landfills. Turns out it's not cost effective and it's not safe. Since day one the Newport facility has promised to become self sustaining according to former WC Commissioner Autumn Lehrke at a 9-20-2012 Cottage Grove City meeting. (I source her whole quote in the article I wrote last year on this issue.)

Local environmentalist are rising up in great number behind advocacy groups like Eureka Recycling ($12 million/yr budget) who addressed this cause specifically in April this year in their two page article and Youtube video titled "Say no to Newport!" 

This Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis Article  explains in great detail the local failure of this industry and sums it up best: "...the legal and economic realities of solid waste shifted in a matter of years, and the dream quickly dissolved. Today, incineration is a legacy technology and a financial burden on the municipalities that bought into it"

No Public involvement, no problem:
This take over is happening with little notice to the public and most especially without a public vote. According to the May 2015 Ramsey/Washington County Resource Recovery Board meeting they appeared to intentionally roll this out silently as possible admitting "we didn't get large media attention for the open houses"... Solution: proceed with the takeover anyway.

The rush to approve the buy out so fast was underestimated... we heard mention of the option for years and even wrote about it in a February 2014 article. In November 2014 we were the only ones to report that the Counties spent $850,000 tax dollars  on lawyers to fast track the process smooth as possible. The Cost has now doubled to $1.5 million for these consultants:


Add insult to injury the June 25th and July 23rd meeting have been canceled as covered in the Part 2 article.

County monopoly on the way with hauler mandate:
Included with the $26 million dollar purchase will be a previously unconstitutional "flow control" mandate that all municipal solid waste (MSW) must be delivered to the government owned processing plant. This became legal after a 2007 Supreme Court Decision (United Haulers Ass’n v. Oneida-Herkimer Solid Waste Management Authority) ruled the government can force the private sector waste haulers to deliver only to a Resource Recovery Facility (RRF) just as long as they own it.

Hauler rebates will end:
Currently the private sector MSW handlers charge about $50 a ton at the many convenient local transfer stations in the area where waste is diverted to the nearest safe landfill with methane gas recovery and 1,000+ year liners. Yet if haulers choose to travel down to Newport they are charged $86 a ton and receive a rebate to cover the costly difference  according to the board's May 2015 meeting.  As seen on the Counties graph the cost is expected to soon go to $100 a ton. This cost will transfer to haulers, when the rebate is promised to be discontinued. Who will then pass the cost on to you. 

An independent hauler, who wishes not to be identified, states they were promised the rebate wouldn't end and is found in the material they were given. Which is in conflict with what is being planned as the flow control mandate (aka "waste designation") is their "ultimate implementation" plan that would take at least two years to implement according to the April 23rd meeting on the subject (see p. 8). So that leaves just two years before "all costs could eventually be included in
the tipping fee" in other words... passed on to haulers and their customers.

The massive hole in the Counties mandate scheme:
Consider $100 tipping fee per ton along with the extra fuel and driver costs of hauling all the Ramsey and WC truck loads of waste to the South Washington County Newport facility ONLY. You are looking at a situation even Waste Management  (WM)  called "impossible".  WM is defending themselves in ongoing appeals from a law suit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) who is attempting to enforce a 1985 law that suggests prioritization of delivering all MSW to Resource Recovery Facilities. A task that is truly impossible as many of these plants that existed in the 80s have closed (4rth paragraph). This leaves local haulers having to travel across the entire county to unload or having their transfer stations truck the waste there... clearly not the intent the legislators had in the 80s. At the time they no doubt thought these things would be as revolutionary as the personal computer or cellphone. Also in the 80s, safe 1,000+yr landfill liners and methane gas recovery didn't exist. 

This inconvenience highlights the greatest problem to this oppressive plan: The fact haulers will simply exercise their constitutional right of interstate commerce by delivering to nearby Wisconsin landfills. Which ironically all of them do not have methane gas recovery where as all but one small rural safe landfill that serves the twin cities does. So at the end of the day the Counties are harming the environment more not only by continuing the practice of incineration, but also by keeping waste that would have been contained and harvested for energy out of MN. They acknowledged this obvious certainty in the May 2015 meeting with clear reluctance: 
"-Likely will not capture waste currently leaving State
-Could cause more waste to leave the East Metro"  [umm... yeah!]

The only comment I could obtain was from Zack Hansen the Ramsey County Environmental Health Director who stated waste haulers were "willing to work with the plan." Yes, they are willing to work right past the County over to Wisconsin! 

The great (false) buck pass: "The State forced us to buy it/ subsidize it"
This of course is not true. In February 2014 Ramsey-Washington County Resource Recovery Project Board paid a law firm to write a full report on the laws surrounding RRFs in MN. No where in  the report was a sourced law that requires the RRF use.

On the May 12th County Board agenda on item 12 they source Mn Statute 473 as evidence they are required to do this; however the law is only about having a waste management master plan. The only state law I could find appears to be MN State Statute 473.848 from 1985 to prioritize Resource Recovery Facility use above other options as mentioned in the MPCA law suit in the last segment. At this point the law is not able to be enforced until the case is resolved (thank you constitution).

State Representative Bob Dettmer confirmed: no State Law
I contacted my State Representative, Bob Dettmer, in November 2014 and he was able to use the MN House of Representative's "Research Team".  They responded on December 4th of 2014 that there was and is no MN State Law that mandates the use or subsidizing of Resource Recovery Facilities (RRFs) or the Incinerators they fuel. 

Minnesota Polution Control Agency (MPCA) confirmed: no State Law and on January 5th, 2015 they replied. They also confirmed there is no law mandating RRFs. The contact was Sigurd Scheurle of the State Planning Director of the MPCA Sustainable materials Management Unit. 

Prepare for massive losses:
In every case we are aware of in MN, costs significantly increase for haulers and tax payers when Government operates Resource Recovery Facilities or  Incinerators. The city of Red Wing's plant was losing $500,000 a year until it closed in 2014 according to a postbulletin.com article. Olmsted County's plant in MN has been losing $1,000,000 a year, also according to a post bulletin article. The Hennepin County plant in MN has been losing $1.8 million a year according to a South Side Pride article. We can go down the line of the remaining waste to energy facilities that are still open in MN (for now) and report the massive yearly losses too. These losses are always attempted to be offset by passing the cost on to haulers. The Newport plant is no exception, they have promised to lower their tipping fees to market levels every contract negotiation and have failed every time since they opened in 1987 reported by Bob Shaw of the Pioneer Press in the article "Time to junk trash-to-energy programs like one in Newport?"
Their plan in brief review:
Buy a failed and declining 80s technology now considered dangerous; end hauler rebates (to create illusion of cost savings); attempt to force the market on to it; ignore the constitutional right to deliver to Wisconsin to avoid new oppressive system; and watch it play out as another wonderful Government program.

Part 2 of this article is posted discussing the massive cost concerns related to this failed industry and why it is important for you to attend the June 25th meeting July 23rd, August 27th [the meetings were canceled] speak up before the decision is all but decided at the August 27th meeting. A couple great articles to read in the interim are Bob Shaw of the Pioneer Press: "Time to junk trash-to-energy programs like one in Newport?" and "Say no to Newport" by Eureka Recycling.

Thank you,
-Matt Behning
Editor of Washington County Watchdog

and
Dismal Recycling investment over last 20+ years compared to the $227 million towards incinerating garbage "for energy" despite the MPCA hierarchy and advice to meet the 75% recycling goal.


Contact your legislators: 

Ramsey County Commissioners:
blake.huffman@co.ramsey.mn.us   651-266-8362
MaryJo.McGuire@co.ramsey.mn.us 651-266-8356
Janice.Rettman@co.ramsey.mn.us 651-266-8360
Toni.Carter@co.ramsey.mn.us 651-266-8364
 Rafael.E.Ortega@co.ramsey.mn.us 651-266-8361
Jim.McDonough@co.ramsey.mn.us 651 266-8365
 Victoria.Reinhardt@co.ramsey.mn.us 651-266-8363

Washington County Commissioners:
fran.miron@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6211 
ted.bearth@co.washington.mn.us 651-738-2425 
gary.kriesel@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6213 
lisa.weik@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6215 
karla.bigham@co.washington.mn.us 651-430-6214