November, 2012 – More than two years ago a group of Northeast citizens came together out of the concerns we had over the proposed City/County waste facility to be constructed at 27th and University in Northeast Minneapolis. Conceived in secret without any public participation, the original proposal included three components:
1. An “overflow” garbage facility that would accept raw waste intended for the downtown garbage burner at times when it was offline.
2. A City-run waste transfer facility meant to replace the Southside Transfer Station and to handle the ‘voucher’ program for the entire City of Minneapolis.
3. A County-run “Household Hazardous Waste” facility that would accept and process toxic household materials that need special handling.
Many people were appalled that, given our area’s past legacy of toxic pollution and the extensive efforts that have been made to clean up our area, the City and County were proposing a new waste facility in our area, directly adjacent to residential homes. Many people were also concerned about traffic levels as the non-centrally located facility would bring in a lot of additional traffic from all over Minneapolis—and even from Anoka County. In order to effectively challenge the City/County plans, we organized as “Don’t Dump on Northeast” (DDONE).Through public education and outreach we reached hundreds and hundreds of Northeast area residents.
Our efforts resulted in widespread opposition to the proposal throughout Northeast. Hundreds signed petitions and contacted our public officials. Surrounding neighborhood associations took formal stands against the proposal. A legal challenge that we launched exposed the fact that the site did not have the proper zoning for a waste transfer facility.
As neighborhood opposition mounted to this ill-conceived proposal, the City quickly backed off and took the “overflow” garbage facility component off the table. But it took our lawsuit and the widespread publicity it generated for the City to finally acknowledge that it was on shaky legal grounds regarding the site’s zoning. In September of this year the City finally withdrew the proposal to move the Southside Waste Transfer Station to Northeast.
These are huge victories for our neighborhoods! Through our collective efforts we have stopped the two most problematic and objectionable components of the proposal. This would not have been possible without the widespread support (volunteer work and financial) of our supporters. DDONE would like to thank and congratulate everyone who has helped support this campaign to date.
A new site plan for 27th and University which just includes the Hennepin County Household Hazardous Waste facility has now been released. While the plan represents an improvement over the earlier proposal, we still have many concerns and unanswered questions over the nature of the facility and the process that will be used to approve it.
Most importantly, this is just not an appropriate location for a county HHW facility. The location is not at all centrally located and, in fact, is just a few blocks from Hennepin County’s border with Anoka County. It also has very poor freeway access. This will limit its use by people in other parts of Minneapolis and elsewhere in Hennepin County. Why does Hennepin County and Minneapolis feel a need to spend millions of dollars building a facility that will be more convenient for thousands of Anoka County residents to use than will it will be for many Minneapolis residents? It would be much more appropriate to locate something like this much closer to downtown and close to freeway interchanges.
While the new plan does increase green space on the site, it is still very close to residential homes in comparison with any other similar facility in the metropolitan area. It still seems as if this is an expedient decision—this remains a facility nobody else wants that is being pushed on a relatively low-income part of the City, one that has already suffered more than its fair share of industrial pollution and disruption.
Is it really a “recycling” facility? Just because project proponents have now renamed this a “recycling” facility does not make it one. Is it really a 100% recycling facility, one that could meet the zoning requirements for an I-2 parcel? We have not seen any detailed analysis of the projected materials to be handled that leads to this conclusion. We want to see that this analysis is done properly. There should also be an opportunity for an independent review (i.e. one not conducted by project proponents) of this issue.
We would also like to see an independent review of the containment systems (including venting, drainage, etc.) proposed for this facility. The past legacy of toxic pollution in our area argues strongly for a critical analysis of proposals like this. Too many times in the past industries and facilities promoted as safe for area residents (by both businesses and government regulators) have turned out not to be so.
Traffic and the need for a new study. In 2010 project proponents deemed issues around traffic at the 27th and University facility important enough that a traffic study, conducted by an outside consulting firm, was commissioned and then presented to neighborhood groups. That study is now completely out-dated. For one, it was not based on the current proposal. The recent completion of the new Lowry Avenue bridge is also changing traffic patterns in the area. In addition, the potential use of the facility by Anoka County residents coming from the north needs to be considered. A new traffic study, followed by further consultation with neighborhood residents, is needed before plans proceed for this facility.
Approval Process/Neighborhood Consultation: In the past, controversial projects such as this have generally gone through an extensive process of neighborhood consultation. For this revised proposal, is such a process going to happen? So far the only neighborhood meetings about this new proposal have been presentations made by project proponents. Is a more balanced approach still ahead of us? One in which both project proponents and those with concerns are allowed to make presentations? Holland neighborhood, in particular, has in the past had an admirable track record of carrying out balanced consultation processes. Is the current HNIA board committed to such a process in this instance?
Are area stakeholders involved with neighborhood groups that are designated by the City as vehicles for citizen input going to be given the opportunity to hear both sides of the issue and then take actual votes on this proposal? While such votes are advisory, they are normally adopted as the official stance of the neighborhood organization. And in most cases strong neighborhood support or opposition has a strong influence on the positions then taken by our local elected officials.
If a balanced process of neighborhood consultation still shows that a majority of stakeholders are opposed to this revised project, are our neighborhood boards willing to commit to adopting positions of opposition to this proposal? And would our City Council representative be willing to commit to oppose the project when it comes up for City approval for a conditional use permit?
If not, is it even worth concerned residents bothering to participate in such a process?
Our efforts have already had a major positive impact. DDONE is committed to continuing to follow-up and engage in these issues in order to achieve the best possible outcome for our neighborhood regarding the future use of the property at 27th and University. We are also interested in engaging in other issues regarding toxic pollution in Northeast and in exploring how we can support other efforts to make Northeast a healthier place to live.