May 17, 1995 in Idaho

Growth Out Of Waste City Residents Do The Grunt Work To Keep Plant Supplied With Composting Material

By The Spokesman-Review
 

This city is bullish on biosolids.

Since 1990, sewer plant operators have mixed biosolids - the clumpy black residue from treated wastewater - with wood chips to form compost. It’s called Coeur d’Green, and city workers sell 4,000 cubic yards of it a year to a landscaping firm to be used as a soil conditioner.

Now, the city’s wastewater treatment plant - powered by the residents of Coeur d’Alene - can’t keep up with the demand.

“I think we could have four or five plants producing this stuff and not run out of places to take it,” said Dave Brown, general manager of Spokane’s Nelson Landscaping Service.

Brown buys all the compost the city produces. He resells some and uses some on commercial landscape work.

When his contract expires in November, he’s prepared to pay 150 percent more - $5 per cubic yard rather than $2 - to get his hands on the stuff.

He’s not alone.

Coeur d’Alene’s U.S. Forest Service nursery, the county’s solid waste department and a handful of other landscapers, gardeners and wholesalers are interested in the reformed waste.

“It’s wonderful the way the plants respond to it; they love it,” said Lori Kay Leonard, partner at Leonards’ Horticultural Services of Coeur d’Alene. “It’s like the finest black soil you can find.”

It’s the first time the city has faced competition for its product. Tuesday, the City Council was expected to decide how and when to bid the contract.

“We’ve never had this level of interest before,” City Councilman Mike McDowell said.

By all rights, it never should have worked this well, said wastewater plant superintendent Sid Fredrickson.

The city’s 14-acre, $2 million composting plant on Julia Street first was designed in 1989. Although never intended as a moneymaker, the sale of compost was intended to help the city recoup some of the cost of disposing of its waste.

That planning was based on false assumptions, Fredrickson said.

Despite what city leaders thought, spreading the solid waste on Rathdrum Prairie probably would have saved more money - at first. As demand for compost rises and ground for land application is chomped by development, Coeur d’Green is the wave of the future.

The city recoups about 10 percent of its composting costs.

“We made the right decision for the wrong reasons,” Fredrickson said.

The city of Post Falls is having trouble finding farmers to take its waste. In fact, this summer, Fredrickson will work with Post Falls and Hayden on pilot projects that someday might bring those cities’ waste to Coeur d’Alene for composting.

The city also will experiment with composting leaves from the city’s leaf pickup program. If that fails, Fredrickson said, “maybe we could just turn this into a topsoil factory.”

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