From Minneapolis, With Love

Hennepin County wants to dump its incinerator ash in the metro's "environmental Bermuda triangle"

In addition, Davis says, the statement didn't include contingencies for leachate spills and offered no details about what the Rosemount wastewater plant would do with toxic sludge left after Laidlaw's water is treated. Agency staffers responded by saying that the sludge may be taken to the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant in St. Paul for burning.

Which, Davis claims, just goes to show that no matter how circuitous the route, the toxins from waste incineration always show up somewhere: When the Rosemount sludge is eventually burned, "they'll release lead and mercury into the air right over the river." Instead of searching for ways to dispose of burner ash, Davis contends, the MPCA should search for alternatives to polluting technologies, something it is required to do by its charter.

Kurt Schroeder, a hydrologist with the MPCA, says finding alternatives to garbage incineration is "not completely outside" the agency's scope, but it's really the job of the state Office of Environmental Assistance. And the issue is "not at the top of the list of [that agency's] priorities right now," he adds.

Jana Freiband

Davis vows to continue fighting the Rosemount ash dump. "I told the MPCA that anytime they did something that pissed me off I was just going to sue them," he quips. He plans to take the Laidlaw case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. Joining him will be the Concerned Citizens Group, whose members say they're tired of being the metro area's "environmental Bermuda Triangle."

"This isn't done yet," says Myron Napper, whose back window affords a view of the Laidlaw facility. "We're going to be taking Hennepin burner ash, soon we'll be taking it from all over." Napper argues that the issue of ash was settled when the dump first came up for public approval in 1991: "I thought we made it clear then that we wanted no incinerator ash, at all." At the time, the Rosemount City Council adopted a resolution banning incinerator ash from local landfills, but officials repealed that decision after the Supreme Court ruling on incinerator ash.

Napper says members of his group feel "walked on" by city officials. The organization has collected 100 signatures on a petition to stop Laidlaw from accepting the ash, and he claims another 200 people have expressed their interest in getting involved. "This Laidlaw situation is really uncalled for," Napper says, "We've already got Koch out here. I think we'll find out later what Laidlaw contributed to the pollution of the Mississippi."

Much of the land around Laidlaw has been referred to as damaged goods. The facility is sandwiched between the Koch refinery, where oil has been processed for more than 50 years, and the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station, a massive Superfund site. The Rosemount/Pine Bend area is also home to numerous metal-processing and chemical plants, trucking operations, waste-processing facilities, and landfills.

But not all residents think the city is getting the short end of the deal. Mayor Cathy Busho calls Laidlaw a "good corporate citizen," and she says only a handful of community members showed up at the City Council meeting at which Laidlaw's ash proposal was considered. "Part of being mayor is responding to the needs of businesses in the community," Busho says. And business has been responsive in turn. Laidlaw's Don Chapdelaine--a former Dakota County commissioner who led an unsuccessful push to build a garbage incinerator there--and other company executives have been active in the city's chamber of commerce. The company has contributed more than $250,000 to city projects, and an additional $450,000 has gone to a trust fund that contributes to everything from Boy Scout troops to local churches.

Ultimately, Busho says, even the Hennepin County ash could become a community asset. Once all four cells at Laidlaw's site are full--the ash cell, Fullerton says, is expected to fill up in about five years--the company will put a layer of dirt over the waste, cover it with a plastic cap, and plant grass and flowers on the site. Someday, the land will be turned over to the city of Rosemount. "Eventually it may become a playground," Busho says.

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