Environmental assessment needed for landfill plans in Renville County

OLIVIA -- A petition is calling for Renville County to complete an environmental assessment worksheet on its plans to accept ash from a proposed waste-to-energy project.

OLIVIA -- A petition is calling for Renville County to complete an environmental assessment worksheet on its plans to accept ash from a proposed waste-to-energy project.

An environmental consultant involved with the waste-to-energy project says the worksheet is required and would be undertaken with or without a petition. An environmental assessment worksheet is a screening tool used to determine whether further environmental study is required. It is typically a questionnaire about a project's setting, the potential for environmental harm and steps that will be taken to reduce any harm.

The petition was to have been delivered to the Renville County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Tuesday, but the board refused to place the petitioners on the agenda, according to Julie Jansen. She assisted with the petition as a resident of Henryville Township, where the county landfill is located.

Jansen said the petition was presented to County Auditor Larry Jacobs instead.

The petition was also filed with the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board in St. Paul. That board is comprised of a chairman, five citizens and the heads of nine state agencies involved in regulating the environment and development.


Renville County has expressed an interest in developing its landfill to hold ash from a $58 million project to develop a gasifier to power operations at the Central Bi-Products plant near Redwood Falls.

Home Farms Technologies of Brandon, Manitoba, Canada, will be building two gasifiers that use a thermal chemical process to convert municipal solid waste into a clean-burning, synthetic gas. It will require a waste stream of 600 to 650 tons of municipal solid waste each day.

There would be about 50 tons of ash created each day, according to information distributed by the company.

John Madole, an environmental consultant for Home Farms Technologies, said an environmental assessment worksheet is required to permit a landfill to hold ash.

The petition cites concerns about the presence of mercury and heavy metals in the wastes, and what it states is the potential for emissions of dioxins and particulates. The petition also cites concerns about materials leaching from the landfill. It points out that the Minnesota Department of Health is investigating whether the landfill is the source for vinyl chloride contamination found in a private well near it.

Renville County is in the process of employing an engineering firm to begin the process of re-permitting its landfill, according to Marlin Larson, Renville County public works director. He said once an engineer is on board, the county will be making decisions on whether to develop the landfill to accommodate ash from the project.

At this point, Larson said it is premature to conduct an environmental assessment worksheet to study whether ash should go to the landfill. The county has not entered into an agreement with Home Farms Technologies to accept it.

The petition includes 61 signatures. Among those signing the petition were the members of the Henryville Township Board of Supervisors and the mayor of Olivia.


The petition drive asking for an environmental assessment worksheet was led by the farm family which owns 80 acres of land the county seeks to acquire to expand the landfill and hold the ash. Dennis and Kathy Barta and their son, Nathan, have declined an offer to sell the land to the county and have expressed their concerns about the plans to accept the ash.

Renville County has initiated eminent domain proceedings to acquire the land, which is adjacent to the landfill.

Dennis Barta said many of his neighbors share his family's concerns about the plans to accept ash from a waste-to-energy project. He said he collected signatures for the petition last weekend. He stopped collecting signatures when he filled the sheets he carried.

He is now considering the possibility of a second drive to collect more signatures.

Barta said he is concerned about the heavy metals and potential cancer-causing substances such as dioxins that he said could result from a waste-to-energy project. He said there is the possibility that toxic materials could leach from the landfill into groundwater and Beaver Creek, which is adjacent to the landfill.

Barta said his family and neighbors are also concerned that some of the ash will become airborne as it is hauled by truck and deposited at the landfill.

Madole said that the ash will contain heavy metals. Regular municipal solid waste contains heavy metals as well.

He said the heavy metals in ash present fewer environmental risks. Municipal solid waste contains acids that dissolve heavy metals and that then increases the risk of their leaching. In ash, the material is alkaline and the metals are less likely to dissolve and leach.


Also, Madole said state law requires that ash contain a certain percentage of moisture to prevent it from becoming airborne in the handling process.

Home Farms Technologies hopes to make a decision early this year on what to do with the ash that will be produced by the waste-to-energy operation, according to Andy Butler, vice president of engineering. He said the company is exploring options besides sending the ash to a landfill. One possibility includes recycling the ash as "ash-phalt'' in road building.

Butler said Home Farms Technologies plans to meet with Renville County soon. Home Farms Technologies does not want the county to go too far into the landfill planning process until the company is able to make a final decision on what it will do with the ash.

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