Stopgap Solution Found to Replace Region’s Trash Burning Plant in South Hartford


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HARTFORD – With the sunset of Connecticut’s trash-burning energy plant in Hartford looming in 2022, the authority tasked with handling a large portion of the state’s waste has lined up other destinations for all that trash – another incinerator in eastern Connecticut, and landfills in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

If everything holds while contracts are finalized in the coming months, the 48 municipalities that have their trash managed by the quasi-public Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, or MIRA, will see an increase in the cost of that service – but there shouldn’t be any of the disruptions to service that were feared a year ago, MIRA President Tom Kirk told CT Examiner on Monday.

Under their agreement with MIRA, 49 member towns and Hartford have the option to leave their contract each March. This year, MIRA is asking the towns to agree not to leave for five years unless tipping fees reach a “trigger price”, set at a few dollars per ton over the expected fees, Kirk said. 

Kirk said that, if at least 80 percent of the member municipalities opt in to the new arrangement, MIRA will be able to negotiate a smaller increase to the tipping fees – the per-ton fee the towns pay MIRA to handle their trash every year. 

“The reason we need that opt out is if things change, if the price of fuel changes and all of a sudden trucks are spending a lot more money to get to Pennsylvania and the tipping fee has to go up by a lot, then the towns would have the option to unilaterally leave the agreement,” Kirk said. “Of course, in that situation, everybody’s costs are going up, and there may or may not be an alternative that’s more attractive. We’ve had the opt-out for years, and we’ve only had a few customers find better alternatives.”

Kirk said bidders made it clear that they could offer a better price if they had more certainty of how much volume of trash they would be handing over the next five years – ensuring they’ll be able to recoup their costs after investing in new equipment like trucks to take on the MIRA waste. 

Having 80 percent of towns opt in gives them that assurance, and could keep tipping fees about $15 per ton cheaper than they otherwise would be, Kirk said. There will be an increase to tipping fees either way – with Kirk giving a ballpark estimate where fees increase from the current $105 per ton to more than $110 a ton, even if more than 80 percent of towns opt in. 

MIRA will have more detailed numbers for towns before they have to decide whether to opt in next February, Kirk said. 

“Tipping fees will be higher,” he said.

The plan has been for the South Meadows plant to shut down on July 1, 2022, but MIRA now expects it will take a few weeks, or even months, longer to complete the transition. The companies MIRA is negotiating with have mentioned delays in procuring trucks, train cars and drivers they need to do the work, Kirk said – part of the widespread supply chain and worker availability questions businesses across the U.S. have been grappling with.

Under the new arrangement, all the trash that now goes to the incinerator in the South Meadows of Hartford will now be split up in three directions: a landfill in Pennsylvania, one in Ohio, and an incinerator in eastern Connecticut.

All the trash that goes through the Essex Transfer Station – about 10 percent of the more than 500,000 tons of trash MIRA processes each year – will now be trucked to the Covanta trash burning energy plant in Preston. 

Kirk said Covanta doesn’t need any additional approvals to take the trash from Essex, because MIRA’s trash will displace some of what is already being burned at the Preston plant.

“Waste to energy plants all operate at full capacity,” Kirk said. “There’s no unused capacity, they’re all fully subscribed, so when we move our waste into Covanta, they’ll have to knock someone else out. They’ve got all they need to continue to operate, and essentially substitute MIRA waste for someone else’s.”

The trash that goes through the Torrington and Watertown transfer stations will be handled by Bridgeport-based Enviro Express, and will be trucked to a landfill in eastern Pennsylvania, Kirk said. 

The remainder – what is now trucked directly to the South Meadows trash-burning plant – will now be trucked into the nearby Murphy Road Recycling Center, then shipped by truck or rail to the Tunnel Hill Landfill in Ohio.

MIRA has only reluctantly accepted the fate of the South Meadows trash to energy plan, criticized for spewing toxic fumes into south Hartford and contributing to pollution that disproportionately harms Black and Latino residents. And a year ago, there were concerns the authority wouldn’t even be able to find private companies willing to take on the enormous load of trash from 48 Connecticut municipalities, Kirk said. 

“It’s disappointing to me to see the state lose its self-sufficiency, to take this disappointing step backwards in our progressive waste management policy,” Kirk said. “But it is encouraging to see that it appears the private sector was able to step up and handle the waste.”

At least for now it appears that MIRA is on track to avoid any disruption to trash service for its members in 2022, Kirk still continued to question the wisdom of closing the plant.

“There’ll be a whole lot more diesel exhaust being generated by Connecticut’s garbage, but it’ll be spread out all over instead of concentrated in Hartford,” Kirk said. “That’s not an advantage for Hartford, it’s a disadvantage for everyone.”