Official: Political will wanes for trash consolidation in wake of trash-to-ethanol

2013-07-29T00:00:00Z 2013-07-29T13:08:05Z Official: Political will wanes for trash consolidation in wake of trash-to-ethanolBy Marc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com

The collapse of the trash-to-ethanol plan earlier this year killed any political will for a consolidated garbage disposal contract in Lake County, a top waste official says.

Dave Hamm, a Lake County councilman who chairs the county's Solid Waste Management District Board, said it's time for the district to get back to the basics of its statutory mission: encouraging more recycling, not brokering unproven waste-to-energy deals.

The waste district board voted in April to kill the controversial trash-to-ethanol contract with Evansville-based Powers Energy of America after more than four years had passed with nothing to show for it. Since then, the waste district canceled its scheduled meetings in May, June and July because of a lack of business or quorum of members, Hamm said.

The trash-to-ethanol plan was supposed to bring cost savings to residents on their garbage bills while creating jobs and a Schneider-based plant that would turn the county's carbon-based garbage into ethanol fuel using commercially unproven technology. The plan was laced with controversy and missed promises by a developer to obtain financing, and it never came to fruition.

Shortly after the contract was killed, Hamm said he wanted to reach out to various community stakeholders — including government leaders, citizens and local corporations — to convene summer forums to discuss other trash consolidation alternatives.

But Hamm said none of the parties he has contacted are interested in such forums.

Hamm also said the mayors and other leaders of various municipalities, including Lake County's largest cities, have said they are happy with their existing traditional garbage contracts and have no interest in consolidating at this time.

Private entities, including one pitching a possible trash-to-diesel plan in the county, have approached him since the Powers deal went south, Hamm added.

But he said neither he nor any other board members he has consulted are interested in another commercially unproven or questionable process.

"This board was hoodwinked before into believing in a company could turn garbage into fuel," Hamm said. "What we need now is really simple, proven technology and common sense."

Hamm said when the Indiana Legislature created solid waste districts years ago, the main edict was to increase recycling of garbage and education of the benefits of recycling. That's something the Lake County agency, with its $5 million annual budget, does through recycling grants to communities and recycling programs for school children, he said.

"That needs to be our focus," Hamm said. "We need to bring it back to that."

Hamm said the waste district is preparing to open a new county leaf composting facility at minimal cost to taxpayers that will help divert leaf waste from landfills.

The district will lease the land for the facility from the Little Calumet River Basin Commission for $1 per year. The district already sponsors a countywide leaf collection program.

Hamm also said he has created a committee, chaired by longtime trash-to-ethanol opponent and board member George Jerome, to seek ways of ensuring communities are spending their recycling grants obtained from the district on their stated purpose.

Jerome, Griffith's clerk-treasurer, and Griffith Councilman Rick Ryfa were vocal opponents of the Powers trash-to-ethanol contract.

Ryfa, a Republican, said he agrees with Hamm, a Hammond Democrat, that the waste district should get back to the basics of its intended mission.

"Any future endeavors to alternative waste disposal should be brought forward by the private sector and should provide a financial and environmental benefit to our citizens," Ryfa said.

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