A major project to upgrade and renovate the Hartford trash-to-energy plant will be awarded to a development team that includes a Spanish-based corporation and a New York firm, state officials announced Tuesday.
But the state’s decision is facing opposition from Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and environmentalists because the chosen developer would continue to burn trash at an upgraded garbage-to-energy facility in the city’s South Meadows.
“The processing and incineration of trash cannot possibly be the highest and best use for approximately 100 acres of riverfront land, strategically located at the intersection of two major highways,” Bronin said in a prepared statement. Bronin promised to fight the plan, or “negotiate aggressively” for more environmental protections and higher payments-in-lieu-of-taxes to the city.
The Sacyr Rooney Development Team was chosen out of a final field of three bidders for the huge project, which state officials believe will bring the aging and problem-prone plant into the 21st century.
The developer’s multimillion dollar plan is expected to result in “tipping fees that are lower than current … contracted rates for many customers,” state officials said of selecting the contractors.
“The Sacyr Rooney concept holds the potential for a higher host benefit payment to the City of Hartford,” according to state officials.
The new developer’s plan includes recycling an estimated 40 percent of waste coming into the facility through “enhanced recycling, anaerobic digestion, and composting technologies,” state officials said in releasing their decision.
The developer’s proposal also calls for upgrades to the trash-to-energy burning system, and “significant reduction in combustion at the site,” a plan officials believe will reduce the potential for harmful pollution.
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s proposed selection of Sacyr Rooney won’t be final until the developer completes a final agreement with the City of Hartford. The state agency’s review team recommends that a comprehensive agreement be completed, with DEEP approval, by Aug. 31. But Tuesday’s recommendation to Commissioner Robert Klee also notes that proposed deadlines could be extended.
Under Sacyr Rooney’s proposal, the developer would need a year to obtain necessary permits and 48 months for construction, putting the end of 2022 as the target for full operation.
But Mike Ewall, director of the Energy Justice Network, called the state’s decision to continue incineration of trash at the site “shocking … It doesn’t make financial sense or environmental sense in the long run.”
Ewall said all three proposals considered by the state included some degree of continued burning of trash in the plant. He called incineration the “most expensive and most polluting way of managing waste” and predicted an all-out fight by community activists and environmentalists to halt the trash burning portion of the plan.
DEEP officials were under a legislative mandate to choose a developer for the Hartford garbage plant project by the end of 2017.
The aging plant in Hartford’s South Meadows currently handles about 900,000 tons of garbage each year. About 300 trucks a day rumble into the plant bringing garbage from the about 70 municipalities that now pay for disposal of their refuse at the trash-burning facility. About 35 percent of that trash is now being recycled, and proposals for improving the plant would increase the recycling rate from 55 percent to a high of 75 percent, according to state officials.
The plant is currently operated by the quasi-state Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA), a successor to the old Connecticut Resources Recycling Authority. The facility has been operating as a garbage-to-energy plant since 1988 and has been encountering frequent maintenance problems.
Hartford city officials and activists say the capital has been burdened for decades with the truck traffic, air pollution and city services the plant requires. MIRA’s payments in lieu of taxes to Hartford have dropped in recent years from about $5 million a year to just $1.5 million — a huge financial loss for a city that has contemplated bankruptcy to deal with its fiscal woes.
In requesting proposals from private companies interested in transforming and operating the facility, state officials asked bidders to assume annual payments to Hartford as the host city would rise to at least $4 million.
Three private developers that submitted initial proposals were selected to provide more detailed bids for the project. Those were: Covanta, a New Jersey-based company that has facilities in Connecticut, including Bristol, and in other states; Mustang, a California development group specializing in waste facility projects; and Sacyr-Rooney Recovery Team, a joint venture between Spain-based Sacyr and Manhattan Construction.
Mustang ran into serious problems with its proposal, which would include shipping the equivalent of an estimated 116,000 tons of refuse out of state to be used as alternative fuel to help power a cement plant in Coeymans, N.Y. Residents of that community rejected the proposal.
A Coeymans town official said last week that the community had decided not to agree to the Mustang plan. Officials of the developer failed to respond to requests for comment last week, but Connecticut officials said Mustang would need to find an alternative destination for refuse from the Hartford region that it wanted to send out of state.
All three final proposals called for dramatically increasing the amount of waste diverted to various forms of recycling. The three proposals also recommended recycling organic food wastes in various ways, from curbside pickup and recycling programs to use of “anaerobic digestion” facilities that would turn organic waste into methane to produce electricity.
West Hartford has already been testing a curbside organic waste recycling program for the past few months and other communities, including South Windsor, are considering similar efforts.
About 20 percent of all U.S. trash is food waste, and experts say it makes up the heaviest portion of household refuse. Connecticut officials say more than 500,000 tons of organic waste is produced in the state each year.