The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Updates on waste water sludge, municipal garbage: farmers will miss the sludge; horizon still holds the dream of burning sludge/garbage to produce energy

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, City Hall, FEMA, Floods on March 28, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Greg Eyerly, the city’s utilities operations manager, wasn’t sitting on a bar stool drinking mai tais a 6 o’clock Friday evening.

No, he was gushingly talking about the $1.8-million fix of the flood-damaged incinerator at the city’s waste water treatment plant on Bertram Road SE near Highway 13. It’s an emergency fix, an interim repair, paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief funds. The repair is expected to hold the fort for three to five years as the city studies what is to come next.

Getting the incinerator up and running will have two significant ramifications: The city will no longer need to truck any of its biosolid sludge to a landfill in Illinois at great expense. And it will not need to use its best option, applying the sludge as fertilizer to farm fields, nearly as much.

Eyerly says the city likely will always put some of the sludge on farm fields during times in which the incinerator is down for maintenance. Farmers, by the way, have stood in line to get the stuff, 200 semi-truck loads or 100 tons of which the waste water plant produces each day. Land application, though, comes with uncertainty, Eyerly says. In fact, the city has had to stockpile the sludge in various spots out in the country this winter for use when fields are suitable for working.

Eyerly reports that the city continues to move ahead with plans to study the feasibility of burning sewage sludge and municipal waste to produce energy. The City Council has approved a $1-million study of the issue.

The waste-to-energy idea, in fact, has been much in the news in Cedar Rapids as local elected officials and community leaders imagine what might come to the rescue of the flood-wrecked steam system that had inexpensively served the downtown, Quaker and Cargill and other industries near downtown, the hospitals and Coe College before the June 2008 flood.

At last report, the city’s lobbyists were trucking a plan to build a $200-million waste-to-energy plan around Congress while city leaders also were working the Iowa Legislature for money.

No one has said much about either for some weeks.

Meanwhile, St. Luke’s Hospital and Coe College have one plan and Mercy Medical Center its own plan to find federal money to build their own steam systems.

At the same time, too, the city of Marion, armed with a state grant, has embarked on a $150,000 study of a waste-to-energy technology called plasma arc. A Marion-centered group of enthusiasts called WasteNotIowa have been promoting plasma arc for five or so years, ever since the local solid waste agency proposed and then did expand its landfill on the edge of Marion.

The second piece of waste news is coming from the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency and that Site 2 landfill.

Karmin McShane, the agency’s director, this week reported that the agency has taken initial steps to tap methane gas from the closed cells at the landfill to produce electricity.

Building the system of pipes and generators will provide electricity for the equivalent of 1,800 homes. Revenue from electricity will pay off the investment needed to set up the system in five years, McShane says.

  1. I could have used a mai tai about then!!

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