Arrogance at work: Ramsey and Washington county boards, and mainstream media, deny public a voice on garbage burning

Xcel Energy 1940s coal plant burning garbage from Ramsey and Washington counties in Red Wing (Goodhue County).  Permit expired since June, 2009

Xcel Energy 1940s coal plant burning garbage from Ramsey and Washington counties in Red Wing (Goodhue County). Permit expired since June, 2009

For a lighter approach to this see these two very nice, brief, videos from Eureka Recycling:

Then, please take action by contacting county commissioners (info below) and attending a board meeting on Tuesday morning.

WE see arrogance on two levels here:  elected officials who mock their constituents while conniving with private interests, and “newspapers of record” (St. Paul Pioneer Press and Minneapolis Star-Tribune) who deny readers access to other points of view.

A sense of entitlement develops all too often in elected officials.   they slip into a frame of mind where people are working for them, rather than the other way around.  And in Minnesota, it seems more common than in some other states for people to be denied the right to speak at meetings, and otherwise to be denied meaningful participation.  Too often, decision-making seems to take place before token “public engagement” organized by hired professional manipulators (In this case, Exponent, Inc.)

A similar sense of entitlement poisons the mainstream media.  A sense of entitlement to decide what points of view get covered, to set the public agenda, to black out and marginalize points of view not appealing to advertisers, or to the owners and managers of the papers.

But it would be hard to find a scam as blatant, arrogance as extreme, as from the commissioners of these two Minnesota counties.  Let me try to lay it out:

Factual background

The commissioners do their waste business as a “joint powers board” long called the “Ramsey/Washington County Resource Recovery Project,” but being renamed.  All but one of the 7 Ramsey County and 5 Washington County commissioners are either members or alternates to this Project board.  For many years most of the garbage from the two counties has been ground up in a privately owned facility in Newport, a small city in Washington County, and hauled for burning to Xcel energy garbage incinerators in Red Wing (Goodhue County) and Mankato (Blue Earth County).

Ramsey County Commissioners

Washington County Commissioners

These burners are converted 1940s coal burners with lax and long-expired permits.  Emissions are high. Like all garbage incinerators, they emit lead, mercury, arsenic, NOx, and other health-damaging pollutants.  The ash is landfilled.

This setup is also very expensive because of the multiple “processing” operations in various locations, and the cost of hauling between them.  It’s about to get a lot more expensive, in money and in health.

The commissioners want to buy the Newport grinder from its owner, RRT, so it will be  publicly owned and they legally can force all the garbage collected in the two counties to come there.    They say that will let them burn 60,000 tons per year more garbage.

More burning, of course, would cause more harmful emissions in Goodhue and Blue Earth counties, but they don’t care about that.  Such a monopoly would surely translate into higher costs, as monopoly usually does.

The purchase is to be financed 77% by general obligation bonds of Ramsey County, putting residents on the hook but guaranteeing profits for investors, bankers, bond traders, and so on.

Some other numbers are interesting.  The recycling rate in the two counties is around 50 percent, and the commissioners say they are committed to raising it to 75% per a goal enacted by the Legislature.  If that entirely practical goal was met, as it should be, the garbage left over to be ground up and burned would be 25% rather than the present 50% of the total.  Half as much.  So why invest in burning more, rather than recycling more?  Nobody is saying, but at a project board meeting in May members complained about what they consider bad treatment by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.  Nobody seems to want to be specific, but the commissioners likely want the MPCA to force other counties to send garbage to the growing Ramsey/Washington county garbage empire, running up costs and discouraging recycling in yet more parts of Minnesota.

But the schemes run deeper: the commissioners have been taking junkets to incinerator industry meetings and visiting burner and “gasifier” facilities.  They have ambitions for a ultra-expensive “gasifier” system, and or a “trash to ethanol” plant which they say would be investor-owned — but of course they would contract to use it.  These “processing” technologies are not commercially demonstrated and unlikely to be effective.

The board members haven’t evaluated any non-burn, “zero waste” alternatives–many of which ARE well-demonstrated.

How to ignore constituents expensively

To shove these schemes down the throats of their constituents, the commissioners have contracted for $120 thousand dollars of “strategic communications” services from Exponent, Inc.  But they refuse to hear from citizens.  I  have made two written requests to speak to the “Resource Recovery” board at its regular meetings.  Both were ignored without a response from any member.  But to make us feel better, here’s a response from The Chair of the Ramsey County Board:

“Your message To: McDonough, Jim  Subject: Request to address resource recovery project board Sent: Wednesday, August 26, 2015 3:45:11 PM (UTC-06:00) Central Time (US & Canada) was deleted without being read on Thursday, August 27, 2015”

Media Blackouts (and media kudos)

Both the Pioneer Press and the Star-Tribune have failed to report in any detail on opponents views and have failed to run opposition letters (with one recent exception in the PP).  See Blacked out in the Star-Tribune… and Almost blacked out in the Pioneer Press.   Why won’t Minnesota’s largest newspapers report both sides of this story?  Is it related to the $120,000 of “strategic communications” assistance?  Does it reflect the deep influence of the garbage burner industry, the every-powerful tentacles of Xcel?

People who might know but do not return our calls:  (The Pioneer Press is less transparent about its leadership)  To it’s credit, the Villager weekly of St. Paul has printed several opposition articles.

Scott Gillespie, Editor, Editorial Pages 612.673.4516

Rene Sanchez, Editor & Senior VP 612.673.1731

Fortunately there are other media, including the  Villager in St. Paul.  The Washington County Watchdog has covered the scam in depth.

Those with experience in waste controversies know that

  • democracy=recycling and zero waste
  • corruption and special-interest control = incineration

We have seen this again and again all over the world, with Minnesota no exception.  The slimy tentacles of the burner industry are sunk deeper into this state than most others, as evidenced, for example, but the relentless campaigning of the MN “Pollution Control” agency for more belching incinerator smokestacks.

In a letter published in the Pioneer Press on Sept 8th (the mentioned exception to the blackout), Newport City Council member Dan Lund wrote:

“Ramsey and Washington counties … plan to dump $24.4 million of public money buying a money-hemorrhaging operation in a soon-to-be-extinct industry.  $8.4 million in annual public subsidies was not enough for the private ownership to agree to continue operations beyond 2015 … burning garbage offers no environmental protection. … With just a little common sense and the smallest amount of courage, our county commissioners would cut off the flow of public money … instead they plan to approve the purchase of RRT on Sept 22.” [Thank Dan Lund:]

On Tuesday, September 22, 2015, the two county boards are scheduled to meet (Ramsey County, Washington County), separately, both at 9:00 am–to discourage public participation–to ratify the purchase of the garbage grinder.

Washington County has distributed a mocking notice:

“Opportunity for input on Overview of the Future Waste Management System.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners will provide an Overview of the Future Waste Management System at the county board meeting Tuesday, September 22, 2015. Staff will provide a presentation which includes a summary of the joint waste processing policy evaluation process conducted with Ramsey County. Following the staff presentation, the public is invited to comment on the topic.”

No mention that the commissioners have already made their decision and plan to vote on it.

People are never treated with more respect than they insist on.  Do YOU want to be treated with respect?  These are the people who need to hear from you:

                    The Commissioners of Ramsey County

Ramsey County District 1 <>
Ramsey County District 2 <>
Ramsey County District 3 <>
Ramsey County District 4 <>
Ramsey County District 5 <>
Ramsey County District 6 (Chair) <>
Ramsey County District 7 <>
(phone for all: 651-266-8350)

                  The Commissioners of Washington County

Washington County District 1 <>, 651-430-6211
Washington County District 2 <>, 651-738-2425
Washington County District 3 (Chair) <>, 651-430-6213
Washington County District 4 <>, 651-430-6214
Washington County District 5 <>, 651-430-6215

If you have a little more to give on this:

The City of St. Paul supposedly has a goal of becoming a “zero waste city.”  If the City is serious about this is should obviously oppose increased incineration.  Please call Council members and tell them so:

               The St. Paul City Council

St. Paul City Council member Dai Thao <>, 651-266-8610
St. Paul City Council member Dave Thune <>, 651-266-8620
St. Paul City Council member Chris Tolbert <>, 651-266-8630
St. Paul City Council President Russ Stark <>, 651-266-8640
St. Paul City Council member Amy Brendmoen <>, 651-266-8650
St. Paul City Council member Dan Bostrom <>, 651-266-8660
St. Paul City Council member Bill Finney <>, 651-266-8670
St. Paul Mayor Christopher B. Coleman <>, (651) 266-8510

Background information:

The link to a previous Alert is here:

Info from Washington County Watchdog:

Eureka Recycling:             


  1. Update on Washington/Ramsey county garbage grinder/incineration scam | - September 21, 2015

    […] For some reason the links to the Eureka Recycling videos did not work on the email.  But they work fine from the web post, so go there to see them. […]

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