Council to try new animal waste solution
July 25, 2019
The City of Sundance intends to scrap its pilot program to compost dead animal waste and move ahead with a plan to store and transfer offal instead. The decision was made at a special meeting over lunch on Tuesday with representatives from the Department of Environmental Quality in attendance.
Dead animal waste became an issue in the first place due to the city’s attempts to secure a permit for a new construction and debris pit. This will mean following current DEQ rules on how to dispose of offal.
According to Public Works Director Mac Erickson, the city launched a pilot program around a year ago to compost animal waste. The program was an effort to deal with waste from sources such as C&A Meats and veterinarians after the landfill closed and trash collection was privatized.
To meet with DEQ regulations, animal waste must be buried in a lined landfill unless it has decomposed to an “unrecognizable” state and only bone and hide remain. This is to ensure the waste is innocuous to groundwater – an issue of particular importance at Sundance’s landfill area, which sits just 20 feet above the groundwater.
At the time the pilot program launched, said Mayor Paul Brooks, the city believed it could bury the composted material in its construction and debris pit, once opened.
The composting pilot program has not been very successful, however.
Brooks explained that the city does not have a large enough area to create small piles of waste and leave each one alone to compost, rather than adding more to the top. Consequently, he said, there are approximately 100 tons of animal waste at the site that are not breaking down as hoped, a problem exacerbated by the damp summer conditions.
Brooks also noted that the city does not have the staff to manage the composting and roll it over when needed.
“We’re just too small,” he said.
The issue of what to do with the waste needed to be solved because the city must specify whether or not dead animal waste will be buried there on the application for its permit. Unsure whether material can ever be composted successfully in the small space available, the council needed to decide a plan for the future.
“We knew this day was coming, but what’s the plan moving forward?” Erickson asked the council.
The three options suggested by Suzanne Engels, one of the three DEQ representatives present, were to continue the composting program; incinerate the waste; or transfer to a lined landfill such as Gillette or Belle Fourche. Incineration has been attempted in other communities with limited success, while the mayor reiterated his strongly held opinion that it would be a mistake to take waste across the state line.
Brooks explained that he has received advice from the Wyoming Attorney General that “sooner or later there will be a lawsuit” involving the Belle Fourche landfill and the city would be trying to defend itself in another state. Legally speaking, he stressed that this was not a position he is willing to put the city in.
Hauling the waste elsewhere is also problematic, he added, due to the smell of the rotting meat while it waits to be transferred. The city itself is only making transfer trips once per month, as most garbage is now hauled by CW Waste, and that’s a long time for carcasses to hang around, said Brooks.
The odor issue was part of the reason the city launched its pilot program; when the offal is packed in sawdust, the smell is at least partly mitigated. This answered a query from Craig McOmie, DEQ, who wondered why the city is “double handling” the waste.
Why, he asked, is the city spending all this time and money managing the offal in the composting program, only to transfer and bury it anyway? Erickson explained that the waste couldn’t be transferred often enough, but also could not be left sitting around untended due to the odor; the intention had been to see if it could be composted into a state that could be buried in the new pit.
Craig Hemmah of C&A Meats outlined the problem from his business’s perspective. Offal can be hauled to Moorcroft’s landfill, he said, but there are timing clashes between the landfill’s operating hours and the timing of slaughter days.
Other issues include the ability to get in and out of the landfill on muddy days without getting stuck and the time taken for transport.
“One of the main reasons we did this was to prevent these guys trying to drive down to Moorcroft,” added Representative Tyler Lindholm, speaking to the origins of the composting pilot.
It was also, he added, to protect customers from potentially having to haul to Gillette in the future. Gillette is “pretty predatory on pricing towards anyone who isn’t Gillette,” he said.
McOmie commented that most places he is aware of have separate fees for the handling of dead animal waste. Calling it an “exercise in economics”, he suggested the council discuss how the cost of the service be applied.
Mayor Brooks noted that, though he recognizes C&A Meats to be a viable business, local employer and important element of the community, the city cannot spend a “lopsided” amount to solve the issues of a single business.
“You have to be cognizant that you can’t bend too far for any one person,” said the mayor.
“The solution has to be affordable for them and for us, we can’t just give the farm away…We cannot appear to be subsidizing them.”
Mayor Brooks suggested a potential solution, asking for input from city employees and DEQ representatives: what if the city lined a trailer with chips and encapsulated the waste until the trailer was full? At that point, CW Waste could haul it away at the standard cost of $700 per trailer.
After discussion on the specifics of such a plan, Council Member Joe Wilson asked two questions of the DEQ representatives. The first was whether the city could bury the 100 tons of waste currently at the composting site if it was at a point the DEQ deemed “unrecognizable”; the answer was yes.
Wilson’s second question was whether the money still available to Sundance through the DEQ’s cease-and-transfer program could be utilized to purchase one small container for C&A Meats’ normal periods and one large container for busy times such as fair week and hunting season. Again, this was judged to be feasible.
Wilson made the suggestion that the city could cease adding to the composting pile and leave it to decompose, turning it as needed, in the hopes it could eventually be buried in the new construction and debris pit. This, he said, would save the cost of hauling it away.
Wilson further suggested that the city pursue DEQ funding to purchase trailers for animal waste, such that it can be stored until the trailer is full and hauled away.
The council voiced support of this idea in the form of a vote to move ahead with the construction and debris permit without including offal. Brooks meanwhile asked Wilson, Erickson, Hemmah and Council Member Callie Hilty to run the numbers to find out whether the plan is financially feasible and Trihydro to work with the DEQ on potential funding.
“We’ve all got to work together to come up with a solution that’s affordable for all of us,” Brooks said.