Iowa City City Council moves forward with landfill plans


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After a fire destroyed a large section of the Iowa City Landfill last summer, the Iowa City City Council, on a 7-0 vote, approve reconstruction plans.

The fire, which broke out on May 26, burned more than 7.5 acres of the landfill, destroying most of the FY09 Landfill Cell. The plans detail a partial reconstruction of the cell, using an estimated cost of $1.67 million for the primary bid.

City staff recommends a staged reconstruction, with 5.4 acres of the original 14.7 acre cell to be completed in 2013. Some of the landfill cell was not damaged by the fire and will not need to be replaced.

During public discussion of the landfill proposal, concerns were expressed on how the fire originally started.

Iowa City resident Mary Gravitt thought the fire could have been prevented.

“My question is: why wasn’t there somebody at the gate watching what was coming in?” she said. “How was [the fire] allowed to happen?”

While city staff was not certain on the cause of the fire, a likely explanation was that a “hot load,” or warm, combustible material, was brought into the landfill and it subsequently caught on fire.

Councilor Jim Throgmorton thought the city had learned its mistake from the fire.

“Accidents happen, and good people learn from accidents,” he said. “I have complete confidence in [city Public Works Director Rick Fosse] and his staff.”

The council was briefed on the specifics of the plan in a work session prior to the meeting, with the pros and cons of each possibility discussed.

The primary, or base, bid would use a material derived from tires to construct the cell; however, the material would be thinner than the previous cell, with a layer of non-inflammable stone separating the layers of tire derived aggregate.

The plans call for compartments in the cell, the goal of which to stop the spread of potential fires to adjacent areas.

The city staff has also identified three alternate bids, using non-inflammable materials with varying costs: sand, gravel, and crushed quartzite.

Daniel Scott, a project engineer in the Iowa City Engineering Office, said the bids would help reduce the possibility of fire.

“We’re taking steps to abate the fire risk,” he said. “Each alternate offers more protection than the base bid, but with a different type of non-flammable material and increased cost.”

The sand-based aggregate would add an estimated $111,000 to the cost of the base bid, the gravel $209,000, and the crushed quartzite $625,000.

The cost would be paid for through revenues from the landfill, which Scott says have likely been taken care of.

“[The money] has already been set aside, the landfill is required to have a reserve amount,” he said. “This will pretty much wipe out the reserves, but thank goodness it was there.”

Regardless of the type of material used, the plans detail placing a layer of garbage on top of the aggregate immediately after its construction, which would reduce the risk of fire spreading in the landfill.

The next step for the project will come on Feb. 19, when the council will decide whether to award the project to a developer.

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