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Remediation at former CT trash-burning site to clean up 'prime example of environmental racism'

The Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) trash-to-energy plant in Hartford, Conn. MIRA shut down in 2022.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
The Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) trash-to-energy plant in Hartford closed in 2022.

A community advocacy group in Hartford is celebrating what they say is the beginning of the end of a case of environmental exploitation.

Dozens of members of the Greater Hartford Interfaith Action Alliance gathered Wednesday outside the former Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) incinerator facility along the Connecticut River in the city’s South End.

“We won,” said GHIAA organizer Dwayne David Paul. “This was a fight and a win over how we use our resources to care for our communities, and how and who controls the land.”

For decades, the site accepted trash from dozens of towns across Connecticut and incinerated it. Advocates say that led to toxins and pollutants being released in nearby land, air and water.

But now, rather than allowing millions of dollars in reserve funds for the now-defunct MIRA to go toward subsidizing towns who formerly sent their waste to the plant, legislation adopted this session of the Connecticut General Assembly phases out those subsidies by 2026. Instead, the funds will be used for environmental remediation at the site.

Organizer Sandy Wood Forand said the plant was a “prime example of environmental racism,” with predominantly white towns sending waste to be burned in Hartford’s neighborhoods of color.

“I am proud that our whole region has taken this step to turn from a history and a present of environmental racism, toward a future in which we become more just and more equitable toward one another and toward our planet,” she said.

Hartford Mayor Arunan Arulampalam joined the advocates Wednesday.

“We will make sure in the City of Hartford,” Arulampalam said, “that these funds that are meant to clean up the City of Hartford are used to do just that, to restore the wrongs of the past, to be able to restore back this land, and to be able to build on this beautiful Connecticut River a space that is worthy of the residents of this neighborhood.”

On Tuesday, the board of the authority responsible for closing and dissolving the MIRA site approved more than $600,000 to go toward an environmental study of how the remediated land can ultimately be used. The study is scheduled to be completed and released by February 2025.

Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.