MIRA facility viewed from the Connecticut River (Credit: Google Maps 2019)

Back to Square One as Region Towns Reject $333 Million Renovation of MIRA Trash Incinerator

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On May 31, the Materials Innovation Recycling Authority (MIRA) will go back to drawing board to find an alternative to either trucking thousands of tons of garbage out of state annually or spending $333 million to renovate an out-of-date trash incinerator in Hartford.

With an early end to the legislative session and the 51-member towns spread across the Lower Connecticut River Valley unwilling to foot the bill for the renovations, MIRA has no choice but to leave behind their agreement with Sacyr Rooney Recovery Team.

“We had anticipated the answer we got from the towns and it helped clarify the need for the legislature to consider some sort of state help,” said Tom Kirk, President of MIRA. “With the virus, that kind of got put aside.”

In the meantime, the incinerator in Hartford will continue to operate for the foreseeable future – at least as long as it is able.

“Our hope is to be able to hold things together through mid-year 2023. That’s our target date for moving to an export protocol,” Kirk said.

In other words, if there isn’t an alternative agreement before June 30, 2023, all of the municipal waste produced in nearly one-third of the state will be trucked to landfills in Pennsylvania, Ohio or West Virginia.

Prior to the legislature prematurely closing down at the end of March, a hearing was held for SB 11, “An Act Concerning the Reliability, Sustainability, and Economic Vitality of the State’s Waste Management System.”

If that bill passed, the legislation would set an annual waste reduction target of 700 pounds per capita by 2022, and 500 pounds per capita by 2024. The legislation would also authorize the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to solicit proposals for solid waste management alternatives and waste reduction programs anywhere in the state. The bill would also require MIRA to submit a five-year plan by the end of 2021.

The legislation would not guarantee that the State of Connecticut will continue to support trash-to-energy incineration and might instead settle on alternative solutions, including waste reduction efforts or alternative waste management technologies including anaerobic digestion, composting and mechanical biological treatment.

“Governor’s Bill 11, though well intentioned … would postpone desperately needed action to implement a competitively developed and comprehensive solution. While there are many technologies and approaches to dealing with solid waste and recyclables, there is no path forward that is totally proven that would negate the need for the facility owned and managed by MIRA, at least in the near future,” testified Donald Stein, board chair of MIRA and first selectman of Barkhamsted. “Therefore, the aging plant must be rebuilt and refurbished now, or there will be a need to begin shipping waste out-of-state to landfills in the Midwest. This would be totally contradictory to the State’s current policy and the desire to maintain our environmental leadership.”

Whether SB-11 or a bill to fund the renovation will be taken up during a special session or the 2021 session has yet to be seen.“I don’t want to say we start with a fresh piece of paper on June 1st, but…” there is no telling what will happen in the next three years, Kirk said.