The Lake County solid waste board should steer clear of commercially unproven processes when considering future plans for consolidating the county's trash disposal, the board's chairman said.
And in the post-trash-to-ethanol era, the Lake County Solid Waste Management District should cast a wider net in its quest to reduce taxpayers' garbage fees, some board members concluded.
Those sentiments from waste board Chairman David Hamm and some other board members follow last month's unanimous board vote to cancel the more than four-year-old trash-to-ethanol contract with Powers Energy of America.
In particular, Hamm, who is a Democratic Lake County councilman from Hammond, said he doesn't believe the board has the stomach for any other commercially unproven trash-to-fuel proposals.
In recent weeks, Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub, D-Schererville, once the trash-to-ethanol plan's biggest political proponent, has said he now has other alternative trash processing proposals on his desk, including a trash-to-diesel concept.
But most of the trash-to-fuel proposals in the country have been slow to develop or are not established. Hamm said he doesn't want Lake County to be a test site.
"I'm going to be wary of any process that sounds like something we just went through," Hamm said. The county has had several years of missed promises and deadlines in the attempted development of a trash-to-ethanol facility in Schneider.
"I think we've already been down that road, and no one wants to go back," Hamm said. "In the future, we need to focus on something that is established. ... We want something that is proven. We don't want something where we have to wait for the test results."
Scheub said he supports the idea of a committee to explore possible waste disposal alternatives, adding he would not sit on the committee.
Solid waste board member George Jerome, a Republican who is Griffith clerk-treasurer, said he agrees with Hamm, a Democrat. Hamm was elected board chairman in January and is a newcomer to the trash-to-ethanol debate.
In the months prior to the trash-to-ethanol contract's cancellation, Democrats and Republicans on the board had been divided over the issue. Scheub and most Democrats pushed to keep alive the project and most Republican board members wanting to kill the contract after several years had passed with no results.
At least for now, the parties appear to be speaking with one voice.
Hamm said he wants to convene public hearings during the summer to solicit ideas from the public regarding trash-disposal alternatives and the county's quest to consolidate garbage collections to save taxpayer dollars.
He said he doesn't want to begin a new bidding process for companies seeking to fulfill this request without conducting those hearings and forming a committee of public- and private-sector stakeholders to discuss the issue.
"I have to agree with the chairman on these ideas," said Jerome, a longtime opponent of the trash-to-ethanol plan who voted against the original 2008 contract with Powers Energy.
"We need a clearer picture of what it is we're looking for before we start over," he said. "When we do search for bidders, it needs to be a nationwide and worldwide search. We need to have all the facts first, not start with a preconceived plan and make the facts fit that plan later."