County councilman concerned over $900M price tag for MSD incinerator

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – A St. Louis County councilman says taxpayers are getting burned on a proposed $900 million incinerator for the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District.

Councilman Ernie Trakas says there are a lot of unknowns about this deal.

“Considering that three years ago, it was one third of that. Yeah, I think so, and I’m not even sure you can count on that number,” he said. “In my opinion, when it’s all said and done, we’re way north of a billion dollars.”

Brian Hoelscher, executive director and CEO of MSD, admits the company didn’t always think the project would be so expensive. He says they projected a $300 million price tag about 10 years ago, but costs have ballooned due to inflation and design expenses once they got working on the project.

“Because it’s a big project. We’ve got a system that’s been treating 80% of the sludge that’s been created in our system for the last 50 years,” Hoelscher said. “It is a big process.”

MSD says the current incinerators, which have been in operation for five decades, have just about outlived their usefulness. They want to have the replacements in place by 2028.

Hoelscher says they’re under federal EPA directives to have a new, modern incinerator installed by 2028.

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Voters will have their say this April with the MSD rate hike proposal. MSD says a “yes” vote would raise rates by about 7%, but a “no” vote would raise them by about 35%.

Councilman Trakas doesn’t like that deal.

“They’re doing it on a design-and-build basis, which means they’re going to go ahead and do it, and then ask the taxpayers to finance it,” he said. “And if they don’t, then the taxpayers will pay for it through rate increases that will be obscenely unaffordable for many people, so I have a lot of objections.”

But Hoelscher sees it differently, saying there’s no way around it; MSD needs a new incinerator.

“This is definitely worth the money. It is going to clean the air emissions by 70–90%; going to decrease our operating expenses by $2 million a year; it’s going to create two hundred jobs on the worksite; and if we don’t have this, we can’t treat sludge and we’ll have to discharge our wastewater untreated. We can’t have that.”

MSD claims to have made numerous offers to meet with Councilman Trakas and give him a tour of the facility, but says those offers have gone unanswered.


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