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home : news : news Sunday, May 29, 2016

1/2/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Future of county landfill bioreactor in jeopardy

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

The Clinton County Area Solid Waste Agency (CCASWA) may abandon its bioreactor after a long-running series of problems, most recently a power outage that resulted in garbage and yard waste settling and sticking to the interior of the tube.

Agency director Brad Seward told CCASWA board members Dec. 13 he still is working on plans to get the equipment running temporarily in order to empty the vessel of material. The material has been stuck in the tube since Labor Day, and Seward said it will cause serious problems if it cannot be removed.

"Whether we're using it in the future or not, we have to get it empty. If it sits all winter, it's going to be a tough hill to climb," Seward said.

Seward said he has been unable to source cable needed to try turning the bioreactor with heavy equipment in order to empty it.

The board approved a motion to request from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) an extension of the filing period for the annual report on the bioreactor, due Dec. 31, until April 1.

Landfill operator Brock Swan and engineering consultant CJ Lage both recommended CCASWA do away with the bioreactor.

Lage reminded board members the agency has spent the last two years conducting testing on compost produced at the bioreactor to show the DNR the material qualifies as cured compost rather than processed waste.

CCASWA has been mixing yard waste with household trash to produce the compost and has undergone multiple 90-day trials in attempts to get the material up to DNR standards.

Currently, the agency must mix the compost 50-50 with dirt in order to use it as daily cover at the landfill.

Swan said he thinks the agency will have to give up on mixing household waste with yard waste if it wants to continue using the bioreactor. The landfill should use one material or the other, or abandon the effort entirely, he said.

"To mix them both together, you'll never get that to pass to their standard," Swan said.

Seward disagreed, saying the previous bioreactor operator was successful in reducing particle size and improving the composition of the compost mix. Progress was hampered by the operator's resignation earlier this year and personnel changes at the DNR, he said.

Seward said CCASWA first needs to get the bioreactor running to empty it and then can make decisions on the future of the compost operation.

However, he acknowledged the bioreactor has been plagued with issues since it was installed 12 years ago and indicated it may be time to pull the plug.

"I really think we've given it the old college try, but at what point do we cut our losses?" Seward said.

It costs CCASWA approximately $57,000 to operate the bioreactor, Lage said.

"And all we're getting out of it is a little airspace," Seward said.

Reducing waste volume with the bioreactor extends the life of the landfill's waste cell by about three weeks for every year of operation, Seward said.

Delmar representative Doug Goodall was among board members who support doing away with the bioreactor, saying resources could be better spent on a public drop-off area, a proposal the CCASWA board has discussed the last several years.

"I think there's lots of ways we could better use our money," he said.

"That thing has been a money pit since the beginning," board president Dave Richards commented.

Lage said the use of the bioreactor has changed since the original inception of the plan in 1999 or 2000, which called for two vessels that would be able to process all the waste generated in Clinton County and possibly allow CCASWA to take additional waste from neighboring counties.

The project was filled with gaps, errors and cost overruns, he said, and the full system never was put in place.

"Things got scary (financially) at the agency for a few years. It was a gamble," Seward said.

The original plan involved CCASWA establishing a screening plant with the ability to sell compost back to the general public, he stated.

Asked about the benefit of the bioreactor, Richards said the only financial benefit is a savings of $3.76 per ton of waste the agency avoids in groundwater taxes.

"The compost isn't suitable for sale, and it never will be," Richards said.

"If we shut it down, the question is, how do we handle yard waste?" Seward asked.

"I think we could come up with a yard waste facility way cheaper than that tube," Goodall said.

Richards said bioreactor breakdowns typically cost the agency $13,000-$60,000 in repairs.

Swan said he sees no benefit to maintaining the bioreactor.

"But Brad is right, you will have a yard waste issue. You'll have to have a plan," he said.

"We have a large area, if the (bioreactor) vessel isn't there that could be used as a yard waste drop-off," Seward said.

He noted CCASWA currently charges for yard waste disposal at the same rate as household waste.

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