Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Washington/Ramsey County Garbage Processing Plant, 6 Months In; Failing? Counties Refuse to Answer.

The $170 Million Dollar Washington/Ramsey County Plan to Take Over Private Sector Garbage Processing was approved August of 2015. As predicted, the counties are letting tax payers and the environment down despite spending tens of millions of tax dollars. The evidence is the response (or lack of) we received to the email we sent to the Washington and Ramsey County Commissioners and the members of the "Recycling and Energy Board"... formerly the Ramsey/Washington County Resource Recovery Project Board. 

Six major problems in their plan we objectively questioned. The questions came from reviewing their meeting minutes found on their website we asked about facts such as evidence they don't have the contracts from haulers to deliver the required amount of trash that is burned at the incinerators in Red Wing and Mankato; How the tipping fees are no where near the levels needed to be sustainable; and the fact, with the EPA's own numbers, burning trash is not more environmentally safe. The response we received was from Judy Hunter, Senior Environmental Program Manager. She stated: 

On Tue, Mar 1, 2016, Judy Hunter <> wrote:

Your email of Monday, February 25, 2015, Subject: 6 questions of Counties on your plan to run the garbage processing take over, sent to Zack Hansen (Ramsey County staff) and Ramsey and Washington County Commissioners, did not request any existing government data.
Information on the questions you raised can be found on the Ramsey/Washington Recycling and Energy Board website

Judy Hunter
Washington County

If they would have read the questions (assuming they did not), they should have realized the questions came from the lack of answers on the website referenced.

After you read the questions you may understand the gravity of why they are so important to answer. The matter is $170 million dollars serious; the freedom of the private garbage haulers being stripped; and not to mention the millions of tons of pollution that is put into the air.

Why is no one accountable enough to answer these questions? Feel free to copy and paste the email and send it to the recipients. These are our elected officials who appear to have no interest in providing answers to this massive problem.

Date: Mon, Feb 15, 2016
Subject: 6 Questions of Counties on your plan to run the garbage processing take over

To the New Recycling and Energy Board and County Commissioners

Here are pivotal questions following the Ramsey and Washington Counties move into the private sector garbage processing business with the approval of the $170 million dollar plan that started with the purchase of RRT in Newport. 

Please answer these six questions for the media, the public, legislators, and others who have a right to know what your plan exactly is now 6 months after the purchase.

You (the board) state in the 2015 published Life Cycle Financial Analysis that you essentially went in blind with the purchase of the Newport facility (RRT): (p. 16 of the pdf)
"RRT has consistently refused to provide exact costs for operations nor the associated labor agreements, Xcel contracts, etc. that would provide actual operating cost data. The costs shown assume County(ies) operation."

This leads me to the following questions we hope the media will follow up on should you refuse to directly answer:

1.) we see on p.49 of your October 22nd meeting agenda that you expect 385,000 tons of MSW to be delivered to the Counties owned Resource Recovery plant. This seems possible now that you finally have a report from their open books (after the purchase) in this November 2015 posted document on your website: assessment_of_the_processing_capacity_part-1.pdf

However, on page 163 of your December R&E board meeting your consultant "Foth" says you need at 380,000 tons to be delivered to make good on the contracts with the garbage burners. On the next page it says "To date, Board staff has received indications of commitment to deliver approximately 310,000 tons per year of Ramsey/Washington waste." For one, "indications of commitment" seems shaky... tax payers need binding contracts to meet the 380,000 tons. Has the R&E board locked in the delivery contracts? If not, by when? Surely you're not banking it all on the MPCA to enforce the mandate you plan to put in place (in two years) to attempt to force haulers to deliver to your plant?

2.)  In accordance with the MPCA and EPA rules incinerating trash is the third priority for trash disposal with Source reduction and Recycling ranking highest. According to p. 26 of the Life Cycle Financial Analysis only 23% of (non-ferrous) recyclables (which was only aluminum to RRT according to your processing report p.23) are removed from the current set up at the Newport plant... implementing what you call "Mixed Waste Processing" would over triple that to 85% recovery according to your MWP fact sheet... why are you waiting until (at best) "potentially" 2018 to do this (according to p.42 of the May 28th 2015 Resource Recovery Board meeting)? You seem to over complicate MWP by insisting organics, ethanol production, and other expensive processes have to be involved right away... you don't... simply expand and improve the inefficient sorting at RRT. Sort out the recyclables (and organics just for compost not costly fuel production) similar to the sorting facility you toured in San Jose' California... this could be arranged in weeks to months not years. This would dramatically increase the County's 51% recycling rate closer to the 75% goal... where as the first two years of your plan do little difference from the strategy of the past.
not hard: 

3.)On page 24 of the December 2015 R&E meeting we find out that RRT was held to strict standards on the trash they sent to be burned to ensure it would be adequate for the power plant's use. Specifically, guarantees that it would burn for the electricity generators in Red Wing and Mankato. In the 61 page detailed processing report on how RRT works there is no mention of dedicated systems to remove paper, cardboard, wood, plastic and other recyclables that burn from the processed trash. When environmentalist Alan Muller toured the RRT plant last year and he confirmed "They take out a little steel and aluminum.  They don't take out paper and plastic and I can't imagine they every would as that's the fuel value the burners want."

According to your MWP fact sheet these combustible items make up a significant percentage of garbage. 

A recent 31 page environmental study of the Hennepin County Resource Recovery Facility and Incinerator found 51.4% of the material burned is recyclable material:
This is a conservative estimate as other local environmentalists say the percentage of recyclable materials burned is closer to 66%.

When RRT owned the Newport Facility they had every incentive to leave these combustible recyclables in the trash they sent out to be burned. They got bonuses for delivering over 250,000 tons (p.28 of December 3rd meeting). Most importantly it helped them meet two of their strict requirements (of many) 
1.) they had to deliver at least 320,000 tons of trash to be burned (p.50 of December 3rd meeting); 
2.) that trash had strict minimum combustibility standards or it was rejected and they were in violation of their contracts and fined six figure sums.

Now that the Government runs the plant you appear caught between meeting MPCA recycling goals by removing combustible recyclables from the product versus leaving them in like RRT had and Hennepin County does and ensuring you're meeting your major obligations to the incinerators. 

On page 163 of the December meeting your adviser "Foth" said “the Newport Facility can fulfill the Fuel Supply Agreement provided there is at least 380,000 tons of MSW delivered to the facility" to meet the contracts you are making with the garbage burners... That's cutting little to no room to remove recyclables since you are expecting 385,000 tons to be delivered. 

Hennepin County is choosing to continue to burn recyclables rather than removing them. However, you promised the public that buying RRT would promote our County's recycling; turns out the evidence shows that's not possible without drastically reducing the quality and quantity of the trash delivered under contract to Redwing and Mankato. What will the counties do in 2018 if you actually implement mixed waste processing and subsequently produce significantly less trash to burn that would likely not incinerate to the expected standards? 

4.) According to p.50 of October meeting you're expecting $26.9 million in revenue from haulers... Your math doesn't seem to add up: With your assumed 385,000 tons coming in and charging haulers the same $58/ton net they've been paying that's only $22.33 million in revenue (net)... It appears you're counting your gross income of $70/ton on 385,000 tons and neglecting to subtract the $4+ million you're paying out with the $12/ton rebate. Why not be honest and transparent and talk net instead of the false impressions gained with talking gross income?

5.) On that note, you claim to "save" $4.38 million dollars by lowering the $86.22 tipping fee down to $70 in the November County Board meeting report to the Board (p. 49). I'm not an accountant, but this doesn't add up as a savings since the facility is publicly owned. The tax payers are still covering the cost above $58/ton to process (same net tipping fee as last year). 

For example: Whether you left the tipping fee at $86.22 and still gave the $28/ton rebate or if you're doing a $70/ton tipping fee and shifting the rebate down to $12 (as you are now).... it's still the same $58/ton in revenue.... You might as well said you're putting the tipping fee at $58 and offered no more rebates... all three situations have the same net result. 

However, if you revealed the fact you are only making $58/ton net you'd lose millions a year like the other publicly owned recovery facilities that are left in MN... so you keep the fee at $70 and subsidize what looks good to $58 with a $12/ton rebate?:
Minnesota 2013 Public Facilities Tipping Fees: *(according to the RRPB Feasibility report)
*Olmsted Waste to Energy Facility (OWEF).............  $83/ton (losing a $1 million/yr)
*Perham Renewable Resource Facility..................... $100/ton
*Pope-Douglas Resource Recovery Facility............ $ 82/ton
*(closed in 2014) Red Wing Solid Waste Management ..... $72/ton (was losing $500,000/yr)
Polk County Resource Recovery Plant .............. $83.64/ton in 2014 (p.46 of Todd Co report)
*Hennepin Energy Resource Co. (HERC).......... $60/ton (loses $1.8 million/yr)    

Yet on page 59 you indicate you'll be making a $2 million dollar profit... Could you please better explain how a public owned facility only making net $58/ton is to be profitable?  Are you not calculating debt service, the $6.6 million in needed repairs, and all other costs that it takes to completely run this business? Or are some expenses shifted to the board to shelter losses? 
6.) At the August 27th meeting minutes (p. 6 of pdf) "Commissioner Bigham noted that when RRT announced their intent to sell, she changed her mind on the decision to acquire.  She stressed that the facility is not an incinerator nor is it a hazardous waste incinerator." Technically that's true, so is the fact more landfill use is not the right answer, nor is the status quo appropriate, we agree on a lot. However, the same rationale of detaching the Newport facility from the incinerators it directly fuels is the same logic as a tobacco company detaching themselves from what their product does to the public just because they're not directly lighting the cigarettes. The Newport facility may not light the garbage on fire... but the practice wouldn't happen with out processing plants like Newport. 

Please answer to the fact:
About 30% of garbage is unburned in the incinerators we send garbage to from the Newport facility and this toxic ash is sent to landfills according to your own research (p. 22 of Life Cycle Financial Analysis)
For the 70% that is burned off over 3 million tons of harmful chemicals are released into the air (not counting the hundreds of tons of CO2) according the MPCA. How come the Resource Recovery Board, or "Recycling and Energy Board" as you now call it, refused to consider any other recycling alternatives to compare along side the purchase of the Newport FacilityAlternatives such as a massive ramp up in sourced recycling incentives, weekly recycling pick ups (instead of every other week), and many more options that Environmentalists like Alan Muller, Nancy Cohen, Eureka recycling, Neighbors against the Burner, and the dozen other local leader's ideas for Recycling support. They spoke often at your meetings (including the October meeting). 

Thank you for your time and consideration.