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Washington, Ramsey counties balk at Newport trash facility price

Washington and Ramsey counties are open to purchasing Resource Recovery Technologies (RRT), the trash-processing facility in Newport, but officials are balking at the $26 million price tag.

During a recent meeting of the Ramsey/Washington County Resource Recovery Project board, all but two members of the nine-person board voted in favor of purchasing the plant, which was put up for sale last month. However, there was one stipulation: staff at the county levels need to negotiate a lower price.

Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel and Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman voted against public ownership.

Chris Gondeck, RRT’s Chief of Operations/Chief Financial Officer, said the private equity firm that has funded the operation since 2006 wants to liquidate by the time the counties’ joint contract with the facility ends Dec. 31, 2015.

Board chair and Washington County Commissioner Fran Miron said he was “disappointed with the purchase price that came about” but that public ownership was likely the best scenario.

Board vice-chair and Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt echoed Miron, adding the financial and economic factors are compelling arguments toward public ownership, but that the environmental impacts are even more important.

“This is why we’re doing this. It’s about the environment,” she said. “And sometimes we tend to lose sight of that.”

Reinhardt said with the state mandate in place requiring communities recycle 75 percent of their waste by 2030, the flexibility afforded to the counties with public ownership of the trash- processing facility will assist in achieving that goal.

RRT is the sole waste-processing plant serving the east metro, and both Ramsey and Washington counties have been the primary users of RRT for the last 28 years. Collectively the two counties guarantee the operation nearly 400 tons of waste annually.

Haulers are provided a subsidy to bring their waste to the Newport facility, a factor that would need to remain in order for the plant to be economically viable, said Karla Bigham, board member and Washington County commissioner.

The board raised concerns about private ownership and the possibility of new owners turning the facility into something different. If it were to change uses from trash processing, Bigham said RRT’s nearly 60 full-time employees, and another upward of 500 jobs as a result of the various haulers who use it, could be out of a job.

“My top priority is that of the local economy and getting the best price for our taxpayers,” Bigham said.

Staff for the two counties are expected to meet with the owners of RRT in the next few weeks. If they are able to negotiate a new price, or if negotiations are unsuccessful, both options will be brought before the project board no later than its July 23 meeting.

“They’ll come up with a newly agreed upon purchase price or we’ll vote to say no we’re not going to do this at all, or we’re going to have to accept it at $26 million,” Bigham said. “We hope that RRT’s owners are cooperative in negotiating and are looking at the bigger picture about coming to an agreement. This isn’t only about the environment, but the local economy and those at RRT.”