Hennepin County’s expensive burner fetish

web_HERCBY LARA NORKUS-CRAMPTON

Energy and environmental consultant Alan Muller recently submitted a letter to Hennepin County, invoking the Data Practices Act, to ask for information on significant financial expenditures and reinvestments totaling hundreds of millions of dollars to promote and sustain our 26-year-old Garbage Burner, HERC.   http://www.alanmuller.com/?p=382
His letter was responding to multiple recent financial requests from the county establishment for extensive incinerator upgrades and contracts that seemed to assume that HERC would continue burning recyclable and compostable discards until at least 2025. This was occurring even though the current contracts for HERC expire in 2018. These budget items appeared to leapfrog over any public discussion on whether or not the HERC contract should be extended.
A recent county contract proposing this 2025 date was an “ash recycling” contract, to mine for charred bits of valuable metals in the incinerator ash from the Burner stockpiled at the Rosemount ash landfill using industrial magnets. (Deemed as preferable to investing  in better systems to recycle these metals to begin with?)  After hearing from constituents, new Commissioner Marion Greene asked if this contract would effectively lock the county into operating HERC until 2025.  County staff indicated that there could be an “opt out” in 2018 with no penalty. The vote on this contract was postponed for several meeting cycles for unknown reasons. Finally it passed 6-1 with Greene being the only No vote. She explained that she’d “like to see us have a larger discussion about the extension of the contract at the HERC.”
Muller contends that, despite the county’s public stance supporting recycling and composting, which would divert discards from the Burner and/or landfills, the budgeted items indicate a different set of priorities. “The rhetoric has shifted but the budget priorities haven’t changed.” The extensive list of documents cited in his letter seems to prove the point. The following are a few highlights. (See the posted link    to access documents listed in this   article.)
A June 13, 2014, memo from HDR Engineering to Dave McNary of the Department of Environmental Services Solid Waste and Energy Division states, “Pursuant to the Service Agreement Between the County of Hennepin and Covanta Hennepin Energy Resource Co., LP, the [current] Agreement will terminate on March 2, 2018 … HDR’s objective is to assist the County in achieving its desired goal of entering into a modified service agreement covering through 2025.” The proposed budget for this service is $139,408. Muller asks how the determination was made that extending the current incineration contract until 2025 was a “desired goal.”  Desired by whom?
He also cites a $50,000 contract with a Washington, D.C., law firm, Morris, Manning & Martin, to provide “… counsel related legal services during contract negotiations to operate the County’s waste to energy facility …”  The hourly rates are given as $425.00/hr and $400.00/hr. Muller asks why the county is bringing in a DC firm to negotiate an extension of the HERC contract here in Minneapolis. And why should almost $200,000 of county dollars be spent to promote an extended HERC contract?
Muller also cites figures from a County 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Program.  The itemized budget figures list $37.7 million spent to date for “HERC Facility Preservation & Improvement.” The projected budget for 2015 is $10.8 million.
Under “HERC Preservation & Improvements 2016-2020” the itemized budget figures list $8.1 million for 2016, $6 million for 2017, $5 million for 2018, $4 million for 2019, and $5 million for dates “Beyond.”  The total budget is $28.1 million. Including other items like “Transfer Station Preservation” the Environmental Services total is listed as $86 million.
It is not known if this is included in the Jan. 3, 2014, approved proposal for a “Not to Exceed” county budget of $407,163,484.00 for system replacement projects defined as “capital projects to replace systems that have reached the end of their useful lives at HERC.” What follows is eight (8) pages of listed “System Replacement Projects.”
Who said that this is what we wanted?  When asked to comment, Muller said, “The overall incinerator industry’s strategy is to chip away at the integrity of local decision making. It is disappointing that there was apparently no attempt to run any analysis of alternatives to incineration and landfilling. Where could we be if the county decided to hire consultants to help Minneapolis  get to Zero Waste? These numbers seem to show that Hennepin County has perfected the art of pretending to promote recycling.”
Muller’s letter had many budgetary questions for Hennepin County.  We will look forward to receiving some answers.
Editor’s Note: The motion to approve the contract was by Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.  He is being opposed in the current election by Occupirate Captain Jack Sparrow.

One Comment:

  1. Another title this story could have: “The incredible arrogance of Hennepin County.”

    This county, the richest and most populous in Minnesota, is joined at the hip to scumbag incinerator giant Covanta. The waste of money, the damage to human health, to the integrity of the county government … is almost incalculable. Sadly, one can see this pattern around the US; it tends to happen whenever citizens lose and garbage incinerators get built. Fortunately this doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, citizens get locked into a scam that goes on for decades. No doubt though, we ARE going to get rid of the HERC, however long and tough that fight may be.

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