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Incinerator decision: Still up in the air

This was supposed to be decision day regarding Detroit’s municipal waste incinerator. Instead, the situation is more confusing than ever. It didn’t help that John Prymack, manager of the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority, denied writing a letter to the City Council informing them that today’s meeting would determine whether the city would continue sending its garbage to the facility located near the intersection of Interstates 75 and 94, or start sending its garbage to landfills as recycling efforts are ramped up. That letter — reportedly sent from Prymack to the council on March 13 — is quoted in a report prepared by the council’s Research & Analysis division. Despite that, Prymack claimed during the meeting to have never promised that the winning bidder would be announced today. So, as of this afternoon, the whole thing is still in limbo. No one — at least as far as I can tell — knows for certain whether Detroit will continue burning its trash or start sending it to landfills when a key contract with the incinerator’s owners expires July 1. There are contingency plans to start landfilling if need be, and preparations are under way to start shutting down the plant if it comes to that. But those are only possibilities at this point. This is what we do know as of today: Landfilling, based on the lowest bid submitted, would cost slightly less than $25 per ton, or about $12 million a year. The wild card that has everything still undecided is the option of the facility’s owners — Energy Investors Fund, which holds a majority stake, and a subsidiary of General Electric, which has a 30 percent share of the facility — to meet that landfill price. If the price is met, then the city is compelled to keep burning its trash. However, the owners still haven’t informed GDRRA of their intentions. A letter is expected any day, said Prymack. It was also disclosed at today’s meeting that the facility operator, Covanta, is attempting to purchase GE’s share of the incinerator. If that happens, it is possible that the city would consider stepping in and buying that 30 percent share from Covanta, said Charles Beckham, Mayor Dave Bing’s chief administrative officer and, as of today, the new president of the appointed GDRRA board. That was a shocking statement considering that Bing said he opposed continuing to use the incinerator during his mayoral campaign. So, it seems now, anything is possible and nothing is certain. “The earth did not move today in this meeting,” Beckham said afterward. “There’s no easy solution to this.” On Tuesday, the City Council passed a resolution asking for “a clear and understandable explanation of GDRRA’s and the Administration’s plans and vision for managing the City of Detroit’s MMSW [municipal solid waste] after June 30, 2009

” That would be nice. For now though, we’re all going to have to continue waiting to see where the city’s garbage is going to be disposed of 13 days from now. —Curt Guyette


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