The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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February 17, 2013

Blue Earth County seeking landfill expansion

MANKATO — Blue Earth County is seeking a state permit to increase the size of its landfill by 80 percent as well as increase the amount of gas the landfill generates as part of a gas-to-energy project.

The 16-acre expansion would raise the landfill’s capacity from 2.95 million cubic yards to 5.31 million cubic yards.

 Because the expansion is greater than 25 percent of the previous permitted capacity, an environmental study was completed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The public has until March 6 to comment on the study, a copy of which is can be found here.

The MPCA has made a preliminary decision to approve the application, though objections could trigger a contested-case hearing.

The expansion is unlikely to be controversial, said Scott Fichtner, the county’s environmental services director.

“People understand that it’s there, that there’s a need for a landfill,” he said.

Using current rates of trash accumulation, the landfill would run out of space by 2018. The expansion will give it enough room for perhaps 20 years.

The expansion request is accompanied by a project to recirculate water through the trash in a bid to turn decomposing garbage into electricity.

 As trash decomposes, it releases methane, a “greenhouse gas” that contributes to climate change. The landfill gives off a lot of methane — 1,345 metric tons in 2011. Of that, 797 tons — the carbon dioxide equivalent of 1,060 average Americans — was released and 548 tons were burned off by a flare at the site.

Fichtner said the estimates for the methane production are a subject of debate in the scientific community, and there is some concern that it overestimates the amount of pollution.

Instead of burning the methane off, the county would like to harness it. The problem is, the trash doesn’t currently generate enough methane for such a project to be feasible.

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