City officials take a step back in landfill tech

BY DANIEL SEIDL | MAY 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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Iowa City officials are stepping back from negotiations over a controversial new landfill technology.
Instead, staffers are observing Fiberight, a Maryland-based company that converts waste into ethanol, as it débuts in other Iowa cities.

“I’m very pleased that the staff is going to wait to see how things go … before we go deeper into negotiating,” said Iowa City City Councilor Jim Throgmorton. “I think we need a lot more knowledge and experience with regard to what Fiberight is preparing to do.”

Iowa City officials sent out a request for alternative technologies for the landfill last year. Fiberight was the only respondent, and the city hired the company as a preferred contractor in December 2013.

The city has been negotiating with the company to take advantage of its services.

The landfill, which serves most of Johnson County, takes in roughly 400 tons of waste each day, and according to Fiberight, it could reduce this by 75 or 80 percent.

The city has been negotiating with Fiberight since December, but now the negotiations will be put on hold while the company starts two new facilities in Marion and Blairstown, Iowa.

Iowa City Public Works Director Rick Fosse said these two facilities would give the city a chance to see if Fiberight’s process is practical.

“We expect that Fiberight will learn a great deal during the construction and commissioning of these facilities,” he said. “This, in turn, can have an impact on the proposed Iowa City facility and operations.”

The Marion and Blairstown facilities are scheduled to open next year. Throgmorton said the city would wait until the new operations are fully functional before moving forward.

“It’s my understanding that Fiberight won’t bring its new facilities into operation until the spring or summer of 2015,” he said. “If that’s the case, then we would be wanting to know how effective their new facilities are; we need to wait until they get their facilities up and running before we make our decision.”

City Councilor Kingsley Botchway said observing Fiberight’s two new operations will ensure that the process will not be negative for the city. Previously, Johnson County residents have raised concerns to the council that the process may not be environmentally friendly or viable for the city, questioning the practicality of the potential partnership.

“I think in this particular sense we need to be even more cautious,” Botchway said. “I would hate for us to [make a decision that would] hurt Iowa City, either short term or long term.”

But Throgmorton maintained no contracts have been set yet, and nothing will be done in the near future.

The city may save money by taking a break from considering the Fiberight agreement, Fosse said. City officials will be able to take the company’s contracts in Marion and Blairstown into account when developing its own agreement, potentially saving money in the negotiation process.

Waiting to resume negotiations will also make the process clearer to Iowa City, Botchway said.

“I don’t necessarily know that it helps us come to a decision,” he said. “[But] it does help us understand what they’re trying to do.”

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