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Archive for the ‘Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency’ Category

Solid waste agency prepares to capture methane at Site 2 landfill; plan is one day to convert it into energy

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, Tom Podzimek on July 21, 2009 at 5:37 pm

The Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency is moving ahead to catch methane gas from its Site 2 landfill in a way that one day might turn generators to produce electricity.

The agency’s board on Tuesday said it hold a public hearing on Aug. 21 to discuss a proposal to install a gas collection system at the Site 2 landfill on County Home Road at Highway 13.

The cost of the system is expected to be $1.4 million, and it should be in place by January, consultant Brian Harthun told the board.

For now, the collected gas will be burned off, but the plan is to install engines to generate electricity, Tom Podzimek, Cedar Rapids City Council member and board chairman, noted.

Harthun estimated that the Site 2 landfill now would generate about 30 to 40 percent of the methane currently collected from the Site 1 landfill below Czech Village.

The Site 1 landfill had had been closed, but was reopened and remains open to take in debris from last year’s flood.

The agency board currently is in the middle of litigation over a contract dispute over the purchase of methane from the Site 1 landfill to produce energy. For now, the methane at Site 1 is being burned off.

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.

More public employees not eligible for OT pay get extra flood cash

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, City Hall, Floods, Justin Shields, Linn County government, Mayor Kay Halloran on August 20, 2008 at 4:15 am

Seven employees at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency who are not eligible for overtime pay will be getting an average of $3,000 in extra pay each for extra work performed during June’s historic flood.

In this regard, the agency is following the city of Cedar Rapids, which has decided to pay 167 similarly situated employees for extra work performed during the flood and the recovery. The city expects the extra pay will reach to a total of $400,000 for those employees.

On Tuesday, the Solid Waste Agency Board voted unanimously to approve the extra pay for the seven agency employees. Karmin McShane, the agency’s executive director, asked for the funds. One of the seven presumably is her.

She told the agency’s board that she had consulted with the agency’s attorney, Ivan Webber of Des Moines, who said the extra pay was allowed as “uncompensated work outside of normal duty.”

Likewise, the Cedar Rapids City Council also had voted unanimously on the matter for city employees a couple weeks ago.

On Tuesday, Mayor Kay Halloran, a Solid Waste Agency board member, asked McShane if she wanted “to get into as much controversy as we did?” She was referring to some who had criticized the City Council’s earlier move.

Justin Shields, a Cedar Rapids council member and a Solid Waste Agency board member, said the extra pay was entirely called for.

“We were in an extreme emergency,” Shields said in explaining his reasoning for approving extra pay for city employees — many of them management employees — not eligible for overtime pay. He said he supposed the city could have gone out and hired more people, but instead the employees on staff agreed to do the work. The employees not eligible for overtime worked without expecting extra pay, he said. They showed loyalty, and so should the city and the Solid Waste Agency, Shields said.

Jim Houser, a Linn County supervisor on the agency board, noted that the county decided not to pay its managers more because the county did not have a policy in place to address such extra pay. McShane said the agency didn’t have a policy either.

Houser added that county employees not eligible for overtime will have the ability to get “adequate time off” for the extra time they put in.

Pat Ball, the city of Cedar Rapids’ utilities director and agency board member, said the city gave that approach some thought, but concluded that those ineligible for overtime who worked so many hours as a result of the flood are still needed and wouldn’t have time to take extra time off work.

The city of Cedar Rapids has estimated that it paid $1.5 million to overtime-eligible employees during the flood and in the early recovery from it.

What’s a couple million when a community confronts a billion-dollar disaster?

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, City Hall, Floods on August 19, 2008 at 2:45 am

The ugly has gotten a little less ugly.

And even as the picture had been turning prettier anyway. Prettier because the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency has had a gigantic infusion of business and revenue from fees paid to bury all the debris from June’s historic flood in the agency’s two landfills.

Earlier this year, though, no one dreamed there would be a flood, and so there was plenty of time to make note that the Solid Waste Agency had taken a hit in a troubled $6-million investment. The investment was in something called Rhinebridge LLC. Rhinebridge LLC, a European investment product created in the summer of 2007, was a kind of investment called “commercial paper,” which Iowa law permits local governments to invest in.

The Solid Waste Agency, which is multijurisdictional entity with a board comprised of Cedar Rapids and Linn County officials and a Marion representative, depends on the city of Cedar Rapids to make its investments, and it was the city, with the help of a Wells Fargo broker in an investment bidding process, that landed on the Rhinebridge turkey.

Earlier this year, the Solid Waste Agency board couldn’t help by reveal the problem. The $6 million represented about a fourth of its cash reserves.

By late spring, the board announced that it received $930,000 of the $6 million investment as part of a cash payout. By then, the agency had lost an additional six-figure amount in lost interest by not having the rest of what it invested in Rhinebridge to invest in something else.

In recent days, Karmin McShane, the executive director of the Solid Waste Agency, reported better news. At an auction sale on July 31, the troubled Rhinebridge investment returned 47.94 percent of its value. This allowed the Solid Waste Agency to recoup an additional $2.430 million to go with the earlier payment of $930,000, putting its final loss at $2.639 million.

It remains to be seen if a court can retrieve more of the money. The city of Cedar Rapids has sued the brokerage firm to recoup what it can of the final loss. The city claims the Rhinebridge LLC investment should never have been offered to the city as an investment.

Rhinebridge LLC, a European investment product created in the summer of 2007, signaled it was having difficulty in September 2007 before it went into default in October 2007. It had too few assets, many backed by problem mortgages, to pay off those who had invested in it.

The city of Cedar Rapids, on behalf of the Solid Waste Agency, had invested $5.921 million of agency funds in Rhinebridge LLC in July 2007. The expectation was that the fund would pay out $6 million to the agency 90 days later, on Oct. 24. But the fund couldn’t.

The investment’s rate of return of 5.4 percent was slightly better than the 5 to 5.3 percent that could have been earned with certificates of deposit, Sue Vavroch, the city’s treasury operations manager, has reported.

Earlier this summer, Vavroch provided documents to note that the city of Cedar Rapids had successfully invested in other commercial paper on several occasions in the last nearly two years.

One of those investments, a $2 million investment of city funds in something called Golden Key Ltd., also failed. At last word, the city had written off the loss.

Great American Cleanup great, but how to stop littering remains a puzzle

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, City Hall, Justin Shields, Mayor Kay Halloran, Tom Podzimek on May 21, 2008 at 5:38 pm

Litter drives board members of the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency nuts.

Board members were appreciative enough this week when they heard from the agency’s education specialist, Stacie Johnson, who reported that more than 700 volunteers turned out locally May 18 for the Great American Cleanup.

Board member Justin Shields, a Cedar Rapids City Council member, said one thing that preoccupies some doing the cleanup is who is doing the littering and why. The volunteers don’t litter, so why do others? he asked.

Shields said he often watches people roll down a vehicle window and toss stuff out, and he wondered what communities can do to avoid litter.

The upbeat Johnson suggested that some litter actually is unintentional litter that just pops off trucks.

Be that as it may, Linda Langston, board member and Linn County supervisor, said it’s clear what is intentional. Litter lives near fast-food restaurants, she said.

This prompted Tom Podzimek, board chairman and Cedar Rapids council member, to suggest that it might make sense to have fast-food restaurants pay a fee or deposit to help pay for communities to clean up litter, “because we’re tired of picking it out of our streams,” he said.

Board member Mark Jones, the city’s solid waste/recycling manager, said a fast-food restaurant considers it litter if its packaging is in its parking lot, but when it is two doors down, it’s advertising.

The state of Iowa has increased the littering fine to $70 from $35, but it’s not clear if that has prompted local jurisdictions to hand out more tickets for littering.

Board member Pat Ball, the city’s utilities director, said the community needed to figure out a way to make it “socially unacceptable” to litter.

Old River Road SW and Otis Road SE are known as regular littering site for major items like couches and appliances, Langston said. It costs local jurisdictions real money, she said, to pick the stuff up and deposit it at the landfill.

Mayor Kay Halloran, also on the solid waste board, remembered when the city of Cedar Rapids had a bulky item pickup program, which began several years ago as a neighborhood cleanup in her neighborhood, Wellington Heights. You could watch late at night as people from outside of Cedar Rapids drove in and dropped their couches, appliances and other junk in the neighborhood for city pickup, she said.


Zapping garbage will always be on the solid waste agenda if Marion rep has his way

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, Marion, Tom Podzimek, Viewpoint on April 16, 2008 at 2:54 am

Who needs a paid Minnesota consultant and a report that covers a waterfront when you’ve got Marion’s Charlie Kress?

That’s a bit of how it went this week at the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency Board meeting when Kress, Marion’s representative on the agency board, got his favorite topic, plasma arc technology, on the board’s monthly agenda.

At the meeting, too, was Louis Circeo, director of the Plasma Applications Research Program at the Georgia Tech Research Institute in Atlanta.

Circeo is bit of a celebrity for Kress and some others in and around Marion who have created a nonprofit corporation, Waste Not Iowa, which is devoted to making Iowa a landfill-free zone. Waste Not Iowa paid for Circeo’s trip.

This core group of Circeo fans became enthused with plasma arc technology back in 2005 at a time when the city of Marion was fighting the solid waste agency over the agency’s plan to expand its Site 2 landfill north of Marion at County Home Road and Highway 13.

Plasma arc – there wasn’t an operating waste-to-energy plasma arc facility in the United States in 2005 and there isn’t today – became the option for some rather than expanding a landfill.

Ultimately, the city of Marion settled with the agency, and an expansion, more modest than first planned, is now underway at Site 2.

As part of the agreement, the agency board set aside a spot for a Marion representative. And Kress filled it. The agency also made a commitment to keep an eye on technological changes in the solid waste field. And Kress, it is clear, is not going to let them forget about plasma arc.

It was hard not to notice Tuesday that plasma-arc guru Circeo’s appearance in front of the board Tuesday came on the heels of a report to the board last month in which a Minnesota consultant told the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency Board to embrace its landfill and to “wait and see” for up to five years on a variety of waste-to-energy technologies, including plasma arc.

In that report, Curtis Hartog, a senior technical consultant with Foth Infrastructure & Environment LLC, Lake Elmo, Minn., said many of the waste-to-energy ideas had not yet proven viable in the United States.

Kress had plenty of questions for Hartog a month ago, and plenty of support for Circeo on Tuesday.

Circeo’s visit to the solid was board was a return one. He spoke to the board two and half years ago, a talk that prompted a few board members, including Kress, to travel to Circeo’s Georgia laboratory two years ago to witness the technology first hand.

Back in 2006, Circeo talked about St. Lucie County, Fla., and its plans to build a plasma arc operation to zap its municipal solid waste.

Circeo said Tuesday that the Florida county now was readying to break ground by the end of this year.

Circeo also said New Orleans, Tallahassee, Fla., and Sacramento, Calif., have decided to build plasma arc facilities, and that Hartford, Conn., also is moving in that direction.

The promise of plasma arc technology is that it can turn garbage and other waste into steam and electricity and eliminate the need for landfills.

In fact, Circeo said that ultimately plasma arc will be cheaper than putting solid waste in landfills. He put the cost of building a plasma arc plant handling 1,000 tons of garbage a day at $150 million.

Board Chairman Tom Podzimek and board member Linda Langston told Circeo that they were still waiting for a working plasma arc system in the United States that could actually produce reliable data on operational costs as well as energy.

Circeo said such data might be four to six years away.

Podzimek, using Circeo’s figures, noted that an operating plant in Japan — Japan has a small plant and a bigger one — has far less impressive energy output to energy input than Circeo estimates a new plasma arc operation would have. Circeo said newer technology is better.

Podzimek also noted that many of the proposed plants are large ones, and he wondered if paying the cost to truck garbage to a site would be figured into the overall cost equation.

Circeo noted that cities like New Orleans and Atlanta have a lot of municipal waste.

Podzimek also wondered if fees to dump waste, called tipping fees, would climb for waste taken to a plasma arc facility. Would industries then go elsewhere where tipping fees remained lower? Podzimek wondered.

Circeo said the proposal in St. Lucie County, Fla., does not call for higher tipping fees.

Podzimek noted Tuesday that the board did not pay to bring Circeo to town. Such input is always appreciated, Podzimek said. But he added that the board would not have paid for what was a return visit from Circeo just a month after the board’s consultant had provided a comprehensive report on high-tech, waste-to-energy technology.

In documents filed with the Iowa Secretary of State, Waste Not Iowa, which paid for Circeo’s trip, lists Dennis Naughton of Cedar Rapids as president, Kress as secretary and treasurer and John Vernon of Marion as a director.


Need compost? Have a pickup? The solid waste agency is for you

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency on April 15, 2008 at 2:30 pm

The market for compost is sufficiently marginal that the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency is giving the stuff away to residential customers.

Practically speaking, though, you probably need at least a pickup because the agency’s compost isn’t bagged.

Karmin McShane, the agency’s executive director, says getting the public to use the compost has an immediate benefit of having a public agency’s useful product being used. And down the road, that might help establish a better local market for compost, she adds.

“We have a product, let’s get it out there and get people using it,” McShane says.

In the past, the agency accepted material for composting for free and then bagged the compost and sold it. Now the agency charges $15 a ton for those dropping off organic material and, this spring, is giving the final product away to residential customers. It still sells the compost to commercial customers.

The agency will load the compost for those who stop by at the Site 1 landfill to pick it up.

The site, on A Street SW down river from Czech Village, is open 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

McShane notes that the agency has four pads on which it stores material as it ages into compost. One of the pads takes industrial waste and the three others take yard waste. Some industrial material is now turned away. Some of that, she says, is applied directly to farm ground at certain times of the year.

Much of the agency’s compost in the last couple years has been used to cap the Site 1 landfill, which closed for business in July 2006. The capping is now complete.

The agency’s compost operation is at the base of the closed landfill.



Solid waste agency has recovered $930,000 on its troubled $6-million investment; hopes for more

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, City Hall on April 14, 2008 at 9:36 pm

On paper anyway, the Cedar Rapids /Linn County Solid Waste Agency is recording a loss of $2,535,000 on its books for the current fiscal year ending June 30 as a result of its troubled $6-million short-term investment in something called Rhinebridge LLC.

The $2,535,000 figure represents half of what the agency is still owed on its $6 million investment.

The city of Cedar Rapids has handled the solid waste agency’s investments, and on Monday, Sue Vavroch, the city of Cedar Rapids’ treasury operations manager, noted that the city, and hence the agency, has recovered $930,000 of the $6-million Rhinebridge LLC investment.

Still outstanding is $5,070,000.

Karmin McShane, the agency’s exeuctive director, estimates that the agency has lost $125,000 more on the investment in interest income it would have realized if the $6 million had been paid in October and reinvested.

Vavroch repeated Monday that a receiver’s auction of the remaining assets of Rhinebridge LLC is now scheduled for early May, though this date has been postponed before, she said.

Rhinebridge LLC is an investment option referred to as commercial paper, and more precisely, a “structured investment vehicle.”

The city invested agency funds in the commercial paper in late July expecting a payment of $6 million on Oct. 24. Rhinebridge LLC didn’t have the money to pay.

Vavroch has noted that the state of Iowa allows cities to invest in commercial paper, and the city of Des Moines is among other cities that have made such investments, city officials there have said.

Even so, Vavroch has noted, too, that the city of Cedar Rapids had not invested in commercial paper until about 18 months ago.

At a meeting of the solid waste agency’s finance committee on Monday, Tim Lukan, the agency’s accounting manager, said the agency would write off half of what it is owed by Rhinebridge LLC this fiscal year as a conservative accounting move.

The hope, he said, was that the agency won’t lose that much.

For now, too, the agency, because of the recorded Rhinebridge LLC loss, has entered a zero in the reserve account it had been building to open the Phase 2 cell at the Site 2 landfill at County Home Road and Highway 13. The agency is just completing construction of the Phase 1 cell there and is expecting to build the Phase 2 cell in fiscal year 2010.

Steve Tucker, the county’s finance director and agency finance committee member, suggested it was now possible that the agency would have to sell bonds to finance the building of the Phase 2 cell rather than using reserves that now might not be available.

The agency’s McShane said it was too early to speculate about that.

Dawn Jindrich, the county’s budget director who also is on the agency finance committee, said her assumption has been that the agency would not have had to go into debt for the landfill construction before problems with Rhinebridge LLC surfaced.

In addition to Rhinebridge LLC, the city of Cedar Rapids also has $2 million of its own money tied up in a defaulted commercial paper investment. That one is called Golden Key Ltd.


News on troubled $6 million investment may come in early May; another $2 million problem murkier

In Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency, City Hall on March 28, 2008 at 2:41 pm

The finance committee of the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency Board of Directors huddled in closed session again this week as it did last week to discuss the agency’s $6 million investment in Rhinebridge LLC, a short-term investment type called “commercial paper.”

The committee took no action.

Rhinebridge LLC, a European investment product created just last summer, signaled it was having difficulty in September before it went into default in October. It had too few assets, many backed by problem mortgages,  to pay off those who had invested in it.

The city of Cedar Rapids, which handles investments of solid waste agency funds, invested $5.921 million of agency funds in Rhinebridge LLC in July through a Wells Fargo brokerage. The expectation was that the fund would pay out $6 million to the agency 90 days later, on Oct. 24. But the fund couldn’t.

The investment’s rate of return of 5.4 percent was slightly better than the 5 to 5.3 percent that could have been earned with certificates of deposit, Sue Vavroch, the city’s treasury operations manager, has reported earlier.

The solid waste agency’s finance committee has met twice now in two weeks and has gone into closed session because the subject matter included possible litigation involving the investment, the committee said.

Subsequent to this week’s meeting, Vavroch said the current schedule calls for an auction of Rhinebridge assets in early May. She noted that Deloitte & Touche and Goldman Sachs were involved in the oversight of the assets and the auction.

As now planned, Vavroch said the solid waste agency’s finance committee and board will pick from two options prior to the auction of the Rhinebridge LLC assets. In one option, the agency would receive cash and would invest it in a Goldman Sachs fund. In a second option, the agency would accept a cash settlement and invest it as it chooses.

Vavroch said it’s too soon to know which option is better.

She got an update on the Rhinebridge LLC investment via an international conference call involving investors from around the world, she said.

Vavroch has noted that the solid waste agency’s investment is included among a “secured credit group,” which she has said is “most senior” status among the fund’s investors.

She noted, too, this week that more than $1 billion in investments are involved in that secured credit group.

In a second matter, Vavroch said the city has far less information about a second investment in commercial paper, a $2 million investment of city funds in something called Golden Key Ltd. That investment defaulted without paying what it owed the city in December.

Vavroch has noted that state law allows cities to invest in commercial paper, a form of short-term debt, and that other cities in Iowa have done so. Des Moines’ finance director has noted recently that the city of Des Moines has about 4 percent of its $186-million investment portfolio tied up in commercial paper. He has said, too, that he’s not apt to invest more in those investment products once the city’s current investment matures this spring.

Vavroch said this week that the city first began investing in commercial paper about 18 months ago.