Plans to cut down on how much of Minnesota's trash ends up in garbage dumps could have an unintended consequence in Dakota County: As the last of the seven metro counties to have mixed municipal waste landfills, it could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in landfill host fees.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) plans to start enforcing a law in mid-February that will force garbage haulers to use garbage burners to their full capacity before taking any trash to landfills, potentially keeping an extra 140,000 tons of trash from being dumped each year.
Because the drawbacks of burying garbage are well known, the intent of the law has been well received. But Inver Grove Heights and Burnsville, which are home to the two remaining mixed municipal waste landfills in the metro area, count on fees from the landfills in their annual budgets.
Inver Grove Heights anticipates losing $350,000 a year in host fees, based on past annual income of about $2 million a year from the Pine Bend Sanitary Landfill, said City Administrator Joe Lynch. Burnsville could see $200,000 less per year in landfill fees at the Burnsville Sanitary Landfill, said City Manager Craig Ebeling.
And Dakota County, which also gets a cut of the landfill revenue, could lose $400,000 a year.
Although they endorse the goal of less buried garbage, the cities say they don't want to be penalized after making dump sites available and putting up with the truck traffic.
"We, the cities of Burnsville and Inver Grove Heights, stepped up and helped with the garbage chain by allowing the siting of these landfills," Lynch said.
In 2011, the metro area generated about 3 million tons of municipal solid waste, and about 800,000 tons went to landfills.
The MPCA says annual payments may drop in the short term, but over time, the cities will eventually receive the money they expected. "This may require them to make some changes in how they budget and how they raise funds ... but I think it's manageable," said Sigurd Scheurle, sustainable materials manager for the MPCA.
The cities also are concerned that reduced use of the landfills would extend their life by 10 years, thereby delaying Inver Grove Heights' plans to use the land as a park and Burnsville's plan to build a mixed-use development on the landfill site, just off Interstate 35W and Cliff Road, at 2495 E. 117th St.
Unsure what to do, the cities have decided to jointly spend $15,000 for consulting advice on how to address their losses. They are hoping to receive recommendations by mid-February.
Restricting landfill use is part of a larger garbage management strategy the MPCA started in 2010. It calls for counties and cities to reduce what is thrown away by 4 to 6 percent by 2030, recycle 54 to 60 percent of the rest, and pull out 9 to 15 percent of food, grass clippings and other organic waste for composting into soil.
What remains after recycling and composting is to be burned or converted into fuel at one of four processing facilities in downtown Minneapolis, Newport, Elk River and Red Wing.
If the strategy works as outlined, only an estimated 1 to 9 percent of the waste stream would be left to go into landfills by 2030. In 2011, about 25 percent went into the ground.
"We can do more for the environment, more for our economy, if we do some improvement," Scheurle said.
Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287