As the clock ticks, the fate of half a million tonnes of CT waste remains unclear

In less than a year, an incinerator in Hartford that collects about half a million tonnes of waste per year is expected to close. But as the closure draws closer, there is less and less agreement on where all this garbage will go.

Currently, the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) manages about a third of Connecticut’s municipal waste. But the waste-to-energy plant has been plagued by mechanical problems and has had to contend with declining revenues for the electricity it produces.

So MIRA announced in december it was time for her to shut down incinerators at her South Meadows plant in Hartford by July of next year. Initially, Tom Kirk, President and CEO of MIRA, told Connecticut Public Radio the closure meant that all that garbage would no longer enter the city.

“It’s clear now that we don’t expect to be able to turn the South Meadows facility into a transfer station,” Kirk said in March. “We will redirect the waste to other disposal sites, to be determined. “

“Garbage will not go into Hartford,” Kirk said.

But now Kirk goes back on that claim.

“I probably spoke too early when I said it looked like we weren’t going to be able to use South Meadows,” Kirk said in an interview on Wednesday. “Because I don’t think it’s clear. It can end there. But it was certainly premature for me to say “we’re not going to be able to use South Meadows”.

This new position has been formally defined in a letter to the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection at the end of May.

In it, MIRA argues that it has the authorized authority to transform the South Meadows site from an incinerator to a transfer station – essentially a place where trucks dump garbage and then reload that garbage onto other trucks, who take them elsewhere for disposal.

“We think the permit as written clearly gives us the authority to load trucks from the top,” Kirk said, “and transfer them out of this facility.”

But in an eight page letter dated July 8, DEEP disagrees, saying MIRA must either ask the agency for an amendment to its existing license or get a brand new license if it wishes to “change its operations to function only as a transfer station.” .

DEEP State Commissioner Katie Dykes said on Thursday that her agency’s position was not new.

“Frankly, a year ago we sent a letter to MIRA and made it clear that a new license would be needed,” Dykes said. “We did not see any action taken by MIRA at that time to apply for a new permit for a transfer operation. The timeline is ultimately in their hands.

In the latest letter, DEEP Deputy Commissioner Betsey Wingfield told MIRA that any submission to the agency for a permit amendment should take into account factors such as traffic and impact, the maximum amount of garbage to sort, store and transfer, and odor mitigation. and management, among other considerations.

He also said MIRA needs to communicate directly with Hartford and the other member cities.

“DEEP strongly believes that a successful implementation of the MIRA transition depends on clear, consistent and proactive communication and cooperation between MIRA, the MIRA municipalities and Hartford, the host community,” Wingfield wrote.

Dykes said it was important that converting a waste-to-energy site to a transfer station goes through an updated licensing process that is open to community public input.

“Some of the odors associated with municipal solid waste management at the South Meadows site are mitigated by the operation of the resource recovery facility and its ventilation,” said Dykes. “If this facility were to stop functioning, some of these odor problems might not be alleviated. “

Kirk said his agency was reviewing DEEP’s most recent letter on Thursday. He said modifying MIRA’s existing permit “might be feasible”, although it is not clear exactly what degree of public participation this would entail and whether such action could be taken before the planned closure of the plant. in July 2022.

“If that could happen, it would essentially solve the problem,” Kirk said. “We can use the transfer capacity that we think we have, and they could push for a license change.”

Earlier in the week, Kirk said he was optimistic the future of Connecticut’s waste will become more crystallized in the months to come. He said the agency is seeking proposals from the private sector for transport and waste disposal from dozens of MIRA member cities.

Kirk said MIRA asked applicants to describe both how they would handle waste with and without an operational transfer station at the South Meadows facility. He said applications are expected to be received and assessed around October.

But ultimately, if a transfer station in Hartford isn’t possible, Kirk said he’s not sure what’s next.

“I’m a little more concerned about whether or not there is the capacity in the state of Connecticut to manage [the] export of half a million tonnes [of garbage] one year, ”Kirk said. “Does the private sector have the capacity to do this? “

“If they don’t, I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” Kirk said. “I guess one option is to keep the plant running.”

“This is nothing that we are planning. Absolutely not. We don’t plan to operate after June, ”Kirk said. “We just don’t know. There are half a million tonnes to process. We hope the private sector can step in and find a way out of state. “

“But if not,” he said, “the plant will be there.”

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