December 7, 2017
CT Green Guide

Hartford councilors demand better deal from waste plant

Contributed photo
Contributed photo
MIRA's trash-to-energy plant on the Connecticut River in Hartford's South Meadows.

The redevelopment of a major waste-to-energy incinerator and recycling operation in Hartford's South Meadows is expected to boost the revenue that the city receives from the tax-exempt facilities, but several city councilors this week said it's not nearly enough to make up for the burden of hosting the plant.

The Mid-Connecticut Plant and nearby recycling plant, which are owned and operated by the quasi-public Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA), are set to be redeveloped by a private developer, as ordered by the legislature in 2014.

The incinerator is aging, prone to shutdowns and needs an overhaul to keep it operating into the future, according to state officials.

The situation has raised concerns in recent years that tipping fees paid by municipalities and businesses could jump significantly if the plant were down for an extended period of time.

"No one wants to see a 20 percent increase over a year or two and what that can do to municipal budgets and businesses," Lee Sawyer, project manager at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said Wednesday at a legislative hearing about redevelopment progress.

DEEP expects to pick a developer by the end of this month, after narrowing an original field of eight proposals down to three pitched by Covanta, Mustang Renewable Power Ventures and Sacyr Rooney. (Proposals can be found here)

The agency has asked bidders to build a $4 million annual payment to Hartford into their proposal, which differ in scope, but all include methods that would increase diversion of recyclables and organics from the waste stream -- one of DEEP's top goals. There are also proposals to use cleaner technologies, such as anaerobic digestion or more efficient incineration equipment.

Sawyer and DEEP Commissioner Rob Klee told members of the Energy and Technology and Environment committees Wednesday that there were hopeful signs that whichever is picked will be able to keep tipping fees for in-state waste hauling close to where they are now -- around $70 per ton.

A developer would have trouble financing a redevelopment of the plant if it cannot secure long-term contracts with multiple municipalities.

"We weren't sure if that was going to be possible," Sawyer said. "We've been happy to see that they are relatively consistent and competitive with what we see in the surrounding market."

While that would be good news for local governments and businesses, not everyone in Hartford was celebrating.

City Councilor Cynthia Jennings told legislators that the city's tipping fees should be eliminated entirely to account for the fact that the plant costs the city money in public safety staffing and impacts resident health.

"These trucks pollute our air and increase our asthma rate among the most vulnerable populations," Jennings said.

Sharon Lewis, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice and chair of the city's solid waste task force, asked that DEEP's RFP process be canceled or postponed to allow the city to have more input on proposals.

"For 30 years we have borne the burden of all the negative elements of hosting a waste facility," Lewis said. "There's no justice in this and it doesn't make much business sense either."

Councilor John Gale said there should be cost of living clauses built into any host fee and profit sharing between the plant owner and the city. He also wants a project labor agreement to ensure 25 percent of the jobs created go to Hartford residents.

Councilor James Sanchez said Hartford has never received an adequate PILOT payment for hosting the plant. The payment was reduced from $4.6 million to $1.5 million in recent years (which was supplemented by an additional $1 million payment ordered by lawmakers in the recent state budget).

Sanchez doesn't want the plant in Hartford.

"NIMBY. Not in my backyard," he concluded his remarks on Wednesday.

Asked about his position on the matter, Mayor Luke Bronin released a statement Thursday evening: "The trash-to-energy plant in Hartford is a non-taxable facility located on prime land near our riverfront, it processes one-third of all the waste generated in Connecticut, and the City pays full freight for trash disposal and receives very little revenue for hosting the facility. If the state wants to continue using prime riverfront land for trash disposal rather than taxable development, the city should be appropriately compensated. I have been working closely with the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and I will continue to advocate aggressively for an outcome that's fair to the City of Hartford."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include comment from Mayor Luke Bronin

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