Montgomery County Legislature pulls resolution to seek grant to launch composting operation

The exterior of the Montgomery County Office Building, located at 64 Broadway in Fonda, is seen on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021.

The exterior of the Montgomery County Office Building, located at 64 Broadway in Fonda, is seen on Monday, Dec. 13, 2021.

FONDA — The Montgomery County Legislature withdrew a resolution to seek $800,000 in federal funding to launch a composting program through an application process that would need to be completed before officials could study the project’s feasibility.

Legislature Chairman Robert Purtell withdrew his sponsorship of the resolution before it could be put to a vote by the full board on Tuesday at the request of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.

“We really didn’t have the appropriate time to get all the facts,” Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort said. “There was some concern over the optics of it from a grant writing perspective.”

Officials were mulling an application to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Solid Waste Infrastructure For Recycling Grant Program. With requests due in just three weeks, the county would be unable to assess the viability of the $1 million project before applying for it.

The prospective project would have seen the county begin composting yard waste at the existing transfer station on Route 5S in Amsterdam. The grant was to be used to purchase a rubber tired loader and equipment to convert the collected leaves and grass clippings into compost.

The county through its application would have committed to providing $100,000 of in-kind services to support the project by installing a one-acre paved pad to hold the organic materials at the transfer station.

A local funding match of $100,000 was also expected to be committed towards the project to support the funding request, but legislators were debating removal of the cash contribution towards a proposal with unproven benefits.

“It was premature to make the application,” said Purtell, who voted against advancing the measure out of committee last week.

The yard waste composting program was being considered as an option to rein in escalating solid waste costs by reducing the total volume of materials being transported for final disposal at landfills outside of the area at the county’s expense.

However, officials don’t know the true volume of organic materials involved and can only make educated guesses about the potential savings. Economic development staff extrapolated that around $120,000 could be saved each year by diverting 1,200 tons of yard waste from the solid waste stream based on data from another county.

The estimated savings relied on the assumption that about 840 pounds of yard waste would be collected each year from every single-family home in Amsterdam, either picked up by the city separately from other garbage or delivered to the transfer station by residents. But the county hadn’t secured commitments from local communities to participate, Ossenfort acknowledged.

Amsterdam piloted its own leaf composting program under the same premise in 2021, but the theorized savings failed to materialize, outweighed by manpower costs. City officials hope to revisit the environmental initiative in the future, but resumed throwing leaves out with the trash last fall.

Supporting communities and area organizations that already compost yard waste and other organic materials may be a better option for the county than launching its own program, Ossenfort noted.

County lawmakers were unconvinced enough organic materials could be diverted from the waste stream to achieve the $120,000 annual savings suggested by economic development staff. Even that sum would be just a fraction of the county’s overall solid waste costs, which are projected at $6.23 million in this year’s budget.

“I just found it odd that we were talking about taking some items out of the stream and we couldn’t even figure out how much of that compost material was even in our stream,” District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly said.

Officials agreed options must be explored to control rising solid waste costs that have largely been attributed to dwindling landfill space and surging fuel prices. The county anticipated $5.7 million in solid waste costs last year and spent approximately $5 million on refuse in 2021.

“It’s certainly a big issue that’s going to remain one for a long time,” Ossenfort said.

The county has also shouldered the cost of recycling since the market for reusable materials essentially collapsed in 2021. Recyclables collected by municipalities and brought to the transfer station are handled and processed by Twin Bridge at a rate of $75 per ton charged to the county.

In the past, the county was actually paid $5 per ton for its recyclable materials through a contract with Sierra Processing. Legislators tentatively proposed studying options to make the county’s recyclables marketable once again or to remove heavier materials from the waste stream, which could be more cost effective than composting relatively lightweight yard waste.

“We have to put an effort into understanding what our problems are going to be in the future and what our waste is compromised of,” Purtell said. “We have to collect data about our waste stream and data about the future space in landfills before we can have a discussion of what to do.”

The local contribution the county would have committed to launching the composting program through the grant application could potentially be applied to a study of the county’s solid waste operations instead, Purtell suggested.

“I think it would be money well spent,” Purtell said, while calling for the matter to be considered in the future. “There needs to be more discussion between the county Legislature and county executive to develop a strategic plan for solid waste.”

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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