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Garbage burning under fire from environmentalists

Garbage incineration in general, and the Perham Resource Recovery Facility specifically, have come under fire from some environmental activists.

At the local level, area resident Colleen Donley and Morrison County activist Robert Lohman spoke before the facility's regional management committee in Perham March 5--contending that garbage burning is obsolete.

"Perham has an opportunity to provide us with a progressive, state of the art way to deal with waste...Garbage burning is in the past," stated Donley, who said an area group is forming to oppose expansion of the facility. "Protect Our Environment" (POE) is the name of the area group, she said.

Garbage burning has fallen out of favor nationwide, she contended, with very few facilities built in the last ten years, many burners shutting down, and other projects abandoned.

"Before you bring in all these other counties' garbage for us to live with for the rest of our lives, with a large percentage filling our air space and 30 percent...of the toxic ash going to our landfill," officials need to reconsider the commitment to incineration, stated Donley from a prepared statement.

Garbage burning poses

environmental questions

A list of 21 questions were presented to the committee. Among the concerns:

----Why not start a "Zero Waste" campaign? This would emphasize reduction, recycling, re-using and composting.

----Who is responsible if there is a serious accident at the incinerator?

----Who monitors ash disposal?

----What happens to real estate values in a town with an incineration facility?

----Who is responsible for major repairs at the incinerator?

----Was there a baseline health study....and has there been an update since the incinerator has been operating?

"Why is Perham putting a landfill from many counties into our air and into our ground?" asked Donley. "There are more progressive ways...we just need to work harder and smarter like we are known to do. Let's be the leader in technology...not go backwards."

Incinerator opponents also

acting at state level

Meanwhile, at the state level, there is a Twin Cities based environmental group that is pushing for legislation that would re-define the status of energy recycled from incinerators--such as the millions of pounds of steam generated at the Perham facility, and sold to Bongards and Tuffy's.

By downgrading its classification as "green energy," there will be less financial motivation for counties, power utilities and industries to utilize recycled incinerator energy.

Perham facility fined for EPA

mercury emission violations

One of the questions from the environmentalists asked for the status of the emissions violations that occurred at the facility, and what penalties are being faced.

Overall, the Perham facility has maintained a good record ever since the management and operations stabilized over the past five years. Unfortunately, there are still memories of poor management more than a decade ago.

The facility did, however, fail a round of testings nearly two years ago. The matter was finally resolved earlier this year, but it will cost the facility nearly $16,000 in fines and nearly $90,000 in corrective actions.

Mercury levels discharged at the facility exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency levels in late 2006. It was the first mercury failure in three years of testing.

The corrective action will include replacement of the scrubber, and new chemical mixing components and practices. In general terms, the solution is intended to slow the air flow and recirculate it so there is more chemical treatment time. Polk County installed a similar extension, and it resulted in a near-100 percent mercury removal rate, said facility manager Brian Schmidt.

Bids for the corrective project are expected to be reviewed by the Perham City Council this month.

The Perham Resource Recovery Facility is a waste incinerator that provides the community of Perham and surrounding counties with an alternative to land-filling municipal solid waste.

In 2006, the facility processed nearly 34,000 tons of waste. The incinerator generated more than 270 million pounds of steam, which is recaptured and sold to the Tuffy's pet food plant and the Bongards cheese facility.