CLINTON — More discussion is needed on what to do with the county's bio-reactor.

The Clinton County Area Solid Waste Agency tabled talks on what the facility should do with its broken bio-reactor vessel. Director Brad Seward had brought a recommendation from the executive board to cease the operation of the unit.

"We've given this 10-plus years. There were some fatal flaws before a lot of present board members were ever on this board with that project," Seward said. "We've kind of got an albatross."

Seward told the board that the bio-reactor has been operational off and on since 1999. The initial idea behind it was to create compost material. However, a screening plant was never put in. The bio-reactor also lacks a second vessel, an underground leachate tank and wells that would run the facility year-round.

Without the screening tank, the material created by the reactor can only be mixed 50/50 with landfill dirt as cover. When it was operational, the facility was handling municipal solid waste garbage collected from Clinton and some of the smaller communities, as well as small amounts of yard waste.

Seward added that 40 percent of the material in the vessel ends up in the landfill because it does not break down properly. This is because solid waste and yard waste is processed together. He added that when the facility runs at its best, it saves approximately one month of space in the landfill.

Jennifer Graf, board member from the city of Clinton, asked about getting the bio-reactor running optimally. Seward said they would have to add all of the above mentioned items missing from the facility. He estimated it would cost $3 million. He did admit that if it ran optimally, it might save three to four months of space each year.

Engineer C.J. Lage presented a chart comparing the costs for the bio-reactor versus the landfill. Assuming 3,000 tons were taken in at a rate of $44 per ton, both would bring in $132,000 in income. However, according to the 2011 fiscal year records, the cost of operating the bio-reactor is $89,607. After expenses, the landfill would bring in $77,000 in revenue while the bio-reactor would make $16,000.

"If you look at it in a simple process, this is a giant composter here. We can operate a composter a heck of a lot cheaper than $61,000 a year," Doug Goodall, representing Delmar, said.

If the center removed the bio-reactor, Seward said the yard waste could be ground by the same company that does the landfill's trees. He pointed out this material would be a better compost because it would contain no garbage. Lage felt ceasing operation of the facility would be the best for the bottom line.

"Sometimes the bottom line isn't the correct environmental line," Graf said. She wanted to look into repairing the bio-reactor.

A new, more powerful motor would cost $10,000 to $11,000. The center would also have to pay $3,000 to $4,000 to use a crane to turn it. Graf thought they could pay that. Seward's concern was that the trunnions might be ruined. He said last time they had to replace them, it cost $25,000.

Seward will look into more options to discuss with the board during the May meeting.

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