Hennepin County is taking its quest for permission to burn more garbage at its downtown incinerator to the Minneapolis City Council.

The county and its incinerator operator have appealed a June 22 denial by the city Planning Commission of their request to increase the burner's average daily consumption of garbage by 21 percent.

The Planning Commission denied a request to amend the burner's zoning permit to raise the allowable daily tonnage from 1,000 tons to 1,212 tons. A majority of planning commissioners said they couldn't conclude that the increase wouldn't be detrimental to public health, a requirement of the zoning code.

The county argued that the facility meets all state emissions requirements. It operates next to the soon-to-be-completed Minnesota Twins ballpark and near office buildings containing thousands of downtown workers plus increasing numbers of downtown residents.

The appeal first will be heard by the council's Zoning and Planning Committee on July 23, and then by the full council on July 31. But the council hasn't been a friendly venue for the burner historically.

All current council members were elected after the council granted the original conditional permit for the facility in 1987. That approval on a 7-6 vote came only after settlement of a city-county court fight in which the city pledged to make good-faith efforts to give the plant a permit, but was not barred from imposing permit conditions.

Several south Minneapolis legislators have voiced opposition to expanding the burner's consumption, but City Council members are likely to be heavily influenced by the city attorney's office, which told the council years ago it lacked legal authority to halt burner construction, as some members wanted. More recent legal advice provided to the Planning Commission appeared to warn of legal problems if an expansion of the permit were denied.

The appeal argues that cities lack the authority to set more stringent air-quality standards than those set by state pollution regulators, and that the city's own legal advice was that the city would have a hard time defending a finding of detrimental health effects after more than 20 years of operation.

Opponents of the proposal to burn more garbage, which would also increase the steam and electrical energy generated at the plant, said that meeting state pollution limits isn't an adequate standard for calling the facility safe.

One of those opponents, Alan Muller, said standards are based partly on health considerations and partly on available pollution controls. But that doesn't make emissions safe, he said.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438