Consider the following situation. A small town on the outskirts of a metropolitan area (select any state you like) is confronted with a proposal to build a regional resource recovery facility. If this plant is built, it will be financed primarily with private capital. It will, however, be eligible for substantial tax breaks (from the state) and even a major grant from the state because it meets a pressing need: it provides a place to dispose of the trash generated by all the cities and towns in the region. Currently, the one landfill in the region is full and solid waste is being shipped out-of-state by truck at a very high cost to each of the cities and towns. There are no other landfills in operation or under construction.

This new plant would be a 1,500 ton-per-day facility that incinerates municipal solid waste in a way that produces steam (that drives a turbine and puts a modest amount of electricity back into the grid). Through the use of the latest pollution control devices, the company claims that the resource recovery plant will meet all prevailing federal and state air pollution and water pollution control standards. A rather skimpy Environmental Impact Report (EIR) has been prepared and approved by the state environmental agency in a big hurry. The developer is ready to go. Cities and towns in the region are signing up (at more than $50 a ton) to deposit their trash at this site for the foreseeable future.

The community in which the facility is planned, however, is up-in-arms. They are totally opposed to becoming what they call the "waste capital" of the region. While the facility will generate new property tax revenue for the town, that is small consolation. They argue that the proposed site is totally inappropriate. People own homes nearby. There is an elementary school less than 3/4 of mile away. The facility will, they assert, drive out all other community economic development activity that might otherwise locate in the area. They are fearful that a daily parade of garbage trucks will caravan through the small back roads in their town leading from the nearby inter-state highway to the proposed plant (and that these trucks will create noise as well as risks to young bike riders and other road users). They are fearful of the stink that they say will be created while waste sits in bins waiting to be burned in the incinerator. They are convinced that this kind of plant is likely to break down and when it does, waste will pile up creating health hazards. It will also attract vermin, allow dangerous material to leech into nearby wetlands, and adversely affect property values. They are not convinced that the plant will meet air quality standards when it is running at full scale. After all, who is to say what awful things may be mixed in with the municipal waste that is being burned? Batteries, for example, will produce all kinds of heavy metals that will put their children at risk. From the town's standpoint, the state is desperate, so it's jamming this project down the throat of the town, regardless of the risks.

The local government is outraged that it was not consulted more directly by the state during the preparation of the EIR (i.e. a state impact assessment). The document seems to have been completed in secret. They have been told that no special local license or permit is required anyway since the land is already zoned for industrial use (i.e. there was once a tannery on the site and it hasn't actually been used for anything else in the past 18 years). The state has no special permitting requirement.

I am the part-time planning consultant for this small town. (The only professional staff for a community of 5,000 people.) I have worked for the Mayor and the Town Council for more than 10 years. The town is my primary professional client. I'm glad that the metro area is going to stop relying on open landfills for solid waste disposal. I'm also glad that we will stop shipping our waste to another state. That seems irresponsible. I would like the region to look for ways of promoting waste reduction, but that isn't going to happen any longer, now that that the resource recovery plant is looking for as much waste as it can get it hands on (to help cover its long-term investment in the new facility). I know that everyone in town is looking to me to find some way to stop the facility, but I'm not sure the plant is such a bad idea. (Since I live in the town, I'm uneasy about the pressure my family is likely to feel if I don't join the opposition.) Maybe we can get some other benefits out of the developer. (No one has talked to them since they don't want to say or do anything that looks like they are prepared to go along with the proposal.) I've already gotten a call from the state environmental agency telling me that the state will do all it can to approve our pending economic development and water treatment grants if the resource recovery plant is approved. A lot of neighboring towns are hoping that this facility will become available very soon (because it costs them much more per ton to ship their waste out of state). Facilities like this have been highly controversial in other parts of the country. A lot depends, I guess, on whether we can trust the developer. They are from out-of-state; no one seems to have heard of them before. The one local environmental organization has taken a strong stand against the plant, but they have offered little or no technical analysis to back up their claim that the risks associated with the plant are unacceptable.

  1. What is your best advice regarding how I should proceed? [Be as specific as you can.]
  2. What is the reasoning behind your advice? That is, what is the philosophical basis for your recommendations?
  3. What kind of environmental planning process, if any, should I suggest to the Mayor and the Council at this point? Why?
  4. What part do you think I should play in this process? If the Mayor or the Council want me to help the town's outside legal counsel file a law suit to stop the plant, what should I do? Why?
  5. What are the most important ideas from the Randolph book that are informing your suggestions?

Please don't write more than a half page answer to any of the five questions. Don't forget to put your name on your answer. Hand your answer in by the end of class!