Residents made it clear to Hennepin County commissioners again on Tuesday they want an expedited plan to close the trash incinerator that has operated on the edge of downtown Minneapolis for decades.
But they left the County Board meeting disappointed after commissioners unanimously backed a resolution directing staff to come up with a plan by February to close the Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC) between 2028 and 2040.
Environmental justice advocates and residents who live near the HERC packed the board meeting to emphasize that emissions from the incinerator are unhealthy and disproportionately affect some of the region's most vulnerable communities.
They say the timeline supported by the County Board is too slow.
"This is an emergency," Stephani Maari Booker, a north Minneapolis resident, told the board, noting the high rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases in her neighborhood. "Resources should be directed at the emergency like it is a natural disaster. We cannot afford to sacrifice another generation in north Minneapolis."
Robert Ciborowski, who teaches at Hall STEM Academy and lives near Jordan Park, said he developed asthma after moving to the area. He said children at his school deserve to breathe clean air.
"You should close the HERC today. You should have closed it five years ago," Ciborowski said.
Hennepin County needs an official timeline to close the incinerator in order to access $26 million the Minnesota Legislature set aside for an anaerobic digester planned for Brooklyn Park. State lawmakers also approved a carbon-free energy plan this year that eliminates trash burning as an acceptable energy source in 2040.
Tuesday's action is significant because it marks the first time the board voted unanimously to come up with a plan to close the HERC. Several commissioners pushed for a quicker timeline, but agreed to the broader window because communities that use the incinerator need to come up with a plan to deal with a growing amount of trash created by residents.
"I want to see a plan that is within five to 10 years," said Commissioner Angela Conley, who represents the Fourth District. She added that "2040 is completely unacceptable to me."
Commissioner Debbie Goettel, who represents the Fifth District, cautioned that it was important to present unified priorities to the Legislature because the county will need state backing to find inventive ways to reduce waste.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates Hennepin County is on track to create about 20% more trash by 2042. Last year, residents threw away 1.27 million tons of waste and only 41% of it was recycled or composted — leaving 750,000 tons of trash that needed disposal.
About half of that trash is incinerated at the HERC, which turns it into electricity that is sold to Xcel Energy and steam that heats some of downtown Minneapolis. Money from energy sales helps fund some of the county's environmental work.
Environmental advocates say a quick and definitive timeline for closing the incinerator would give county officials and other leaders incentive to come up with creative solutions. Without a deadline, they fear the process to shutter the HERC, which opened in 1989, will continue to drag on.
"This fight has been going on longer than I have been alive," said Miasia Wise Asia, a north Minneapolis native who is the Minnesota director for the nonprofit Action for the Climate Emergency (ACE). "Our communities' health and well-being cannot endure any more delay."