State rejects $330M trash plant upgrade, seeks new path
A day after rejecting a proposal to spend approximately $330 million to upgrade an aging trash incinerator in Hartford that handles about one-third of Connecticut’s garbage, the leader of the state’s environmental agency said she wants the quasi-public trash authority to come back with an alternative plan that includes innovative and environmentally sustainable disposal methods.
Both Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes and Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday they could not justify making such a large capital investment in the trash-to-energy plant overseen by the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority or MIRA, in addition to possibly hundreds of millions of dollars more in state subsidies.
“The cost of that refurbishment is really, it’s so high, and at a challenging time for the state to take on that kind of impact on our ratepayers and taxpayers,” Dykes said. “And the concept of investing that kind of subsidy in a decades-old technology is really not moving us forward in terms of more sustainable solutions for our state.”
Dykes and Lamont appeared together Wednesday outside Blue Earth Compost, a Hartford-based food scrap collection service for residents and businesses that began in 2013 and currently handles about 30-to-35 tons of food waste a week. They pointed to Blue Earth as an example of the type of innovative company they’d like to see take on the task of handling municipal solid waste in Connecticut, suggesting the state might provide incentives to encourage cities and towns to partner with such businesses.
Meanwhile, DEEP has called on MIRA, created in 2014 as the successor to the former Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority, to come up with a new plan for disposing the roughly 600,000 tons a year the Hartford plant handles. In a letter to MIRA officials, Dykes said the authority’s planned alternative to overhauling the old incinerator — shipping Connecticut’s garbage to out-of-state landfills that could close in the future - is “inconsistent with MIRA’s statutory requirements.” She noted MIRA has the ability to contract with the private industry on behalf of its member communities.
Former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, said six years ago that the legislation creating MIRA marked a major modernization effort and would make Connecticut “a leader in recycling and innovative waste management,” ultimately helping the environment, saving taxpayer money and creating economic benefits.
A message was left seeking comment with Thomas D. Kirk, the president and CEO of the authority, which operates other trash and recycling operations in the state.
In May, MIRA’s board of directors voted to begin closing the Hartford trash plant, which accepts garbage from 51 communities and private haulers, because the municipalities could not afford the high cost of modernizing the outdated facility without state support. Board members expressed dismay that Connecticut garbage will eventually have to be hauled to out-of-state landfills.
Dykes acknowledged that finding more environmentally friendly ways of disposing about 600,000 tons is “a lot to chip away.”
“But unless you get started and unless you make an intention to start working hard to scale up these types of solutions, to provide support for towns who’ve been leading on this and want to do more, we won’t have those alternatives,” Dykes said. “So that’s what we’re really trying to build here.”