Handling hazardous waste in NE Minneapolis


Will it be a LEED-certified, state-of-the-art community amenity with green space and bike paths? Or will it be a garbage dump? 

It depends on whom you ask. 

City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County officials have their eye–and, potentially, about 10 million tax dollars–on the 6.5-acre Wheeling Corrugating property at 27th and University avenues NE. They want to create a “one-stop” waste-transfer facility, replicating the county’s household hazardous waste facility in Bloomington and replacing the city’s South Minneapolis transfer station, which operates the city’s residential construction and demolition debris voucher program and some other waste handling.

County officials also confirmed that routine solid waste collections could be brought to the new facility for transfer, if the Hennepin County incinerator is not operating.

The other facilities are located in industrial areas with the nearest residences more than 500 feet away. The 27th and University property has a lot of nearby industry, especially to the north; but it also has houses across an alley from it, and across 26th Avenue from it.

Wheeling Corrugating’s commercial roofing operation closed in 2009, and the company put the property up for sale. The purchase price will probably be about $2 million, and the new facility will probably cost about $6-8 million.

Government ownership would take the property off of the tax rolls; it now generates $64,000 per year in property taxes. The property tax payments are current.

The Minneapolis City Council approved buying the property, if the property passes numerous tests of environmental safety, soil condition, and general suitability for the proposed project.

The new facility would allow residents to drive in to an enclosed building with either household hazardous wastes or construction and demolition debris. The wastes would be sorted, packaged and removed to recycling or disposal facilities.

City and county officials emphasize that it will be a drop-off facility, not a processing facility. Materials would be sorted, separated, packaged and shipped.

Paul Miller, a senior project manager for the City of Minneapolis, said in an interview that the community will benefit from the project. “We’ve always felt this facility is an amenity to the city,” he said. He acknowledged, however, that “we need to do a better job of communicating what the project is.”

That might not be as easy as it seems, because officials are reluctant to pursue the fine details of design and function until they know the city controls the site, and the city’s “due diligence” process is likely to take several more weeks.

For some nearby residents, though, even the government’s best spin isn’t good enough to make them want the project. At an Aug. 12 Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association (HNIA) meeting, several residents said that traffic on University Avenue already stretches its limits, and this would add hundreds of trips each week. Some were concerned that people hauling debris won’t contain their waste matter as they drive through Northeast to get to the facility.

At the meeting, several people signed up for a group called, “Don’t Dump on Northeast.”

Opponents also point out that Northeast has a disproportionate share of the city’s industrial property and pollution problems, and say that this facility will make an already-bad situation worse.

Susan Young, director of the city’s solid waste and recycling division, said at the HNIA meeting that the streets surrounding the city’s South transfer station, where the construction and demolition debris is brought now, are well patrolled and that they don’t experience incoming debris landing in the streets or on adjacent property.

Miller and Young also told the HNIA meeting that the new facility would be accountable to the public because it would be publicly owned and operated; and that, if it remains in the private sector, the property’s I-2 zoning could accommodate some unattractive businesses that the city and county might not be able to regulate into neighborhood-friendliness.

They, and a nearby resident who opposes the plan, cited the American Iron and Supply Kondirator controversy to support their points. The resident said it was an example of the city “going to bat” for Northeast and opposing the metal shredder on the river. Young pointed out that the courts declared the city’s actions improper, and it cost taxpayers millions of dollars to settle the matter.

Miller said the results of a traffic study for the site and the surrounding area are expected soon.

First Ward Minneapolis City Council Member Kevin Reich, who worked for HNIA before his election, said the project is in its early stages. “This is not a typical project,” he said. “We’ve already had a lot of conversation on this project, and we’re going to have more. That’s my commitment to the process.”

URS, a consulting engineering firm, conducted a “Phase I Environmental Site Assessment” on the property; their report is dated May 24. A Phase I study involves a site inspection and a review of the site’s history, “to evaluate whether current or historical activities on or near the Subject Property may have resulted in significant impacts by hazardous substances or petroleum products…” according to the executive summary of URS’ report.

URS found that four underground storage tanks, ranging in size from 560 to 5,000 gallons, were used on the site, that they had been removed, and that “no associated leaks were reported.”

The main environmental concerns URS found were a manhole, two shallow (1-4 feet deep) pits with oily residue at their bases, soil and groundwater pollution on nearby properties, and the assumption that the buildings on the property contain lead-based paint and asbestos.

Miller said that further environmental testing and an evaluation of the structural capacity of the soil on the property are underway.

Miller said city and county officials are “targeting late September” as the time to make a decision on whether or not to go ahead with the project.