Post 46 in a series. When Green Turns Brown is an examination of a small town’s digester-energy project, in which Whitewater, Wisconsin would import other cities’ waste, claiming that the result would be both profitable and green.
In this post, I’ll offer questions based on the 9.17.15 remarks of Whitewater’s city manager, Cameron Clapper, about a waste importation program. His remarks were unforced (and possibly scripted in response to a question known to him), and thus offer a fair assessment of city planning on this topic. Yesterday, in Post 45, I posted a transcription of his comments. Today, I will pose questions in the order of his comments.
Today’s questions begin with 270. All the questions in this series may be found in the Question Bin. (Questions that are similar to earlier ones reveal how little responsive, relevant information the municipal government has provided about this project.)
Q: The wastewater treatment plant, there has been some discussion in the community about the fact that originally there was a fairly ambitious plan about possibly importing waste from outside the community and processing it there. That’s now been scaled back but there is still an element of that in the proposal.
270. The questioner, a member of Whitewater’s local government, helpfully says that there is ‘an element’ of waste importation in this program. What does he think that element is? Isn’t that element six years of waste importation, with an assumption of thirty-thousand in fees received from waste haulers dumping waste into the digester?
Whitewater City Manager Clapper: Yep.
Q (continues): Would you like to address that in terms of the concern for environmental issues and the like?
271. The question asks about ‘environmental issues and the like.’ Shouldn’t environmental issues deserve greater attention that a sexagenarian’s dismissive inclusion of them as ‘environmental issues and the like’? What, by the way, are environmental issues if not, especially for those far younger than the questioner, health issues?
272. As I’ve written more than once that waste importation concerns fiscal, economic, environmental, health, and business culture issues for a community. Other than a question or two, and a few vendor-crafted PowerPoint slides, what can either the questioner or Whitewater’s city manager show of original work and thought on these subjects?
Clapper: Yes, I will. And I will go back just a quick second to one of these aerials of the whole facility. So, the digester complex is up in the upper right corner of the screen. And that is where, we, I already mentioned the process and the methane gas byproduct that could be utilized more effectively.
273. Why would anyone claim that the methane ‘could be utilized’ when the very plan that the municipal government has put forth promises six years of actual gas savings? Despite an investment of over two-million in this part of the project, is City Manager Clapper uncertain about gas production even now?
274. Methane gas production is promised to generate significant sums in each of the initial six years of waste importation, as part of a ‘simple payback’ of the costs of importing it. Will City Manager Clapper guarantee those savings from his own salary? Much is said from city government about entrepreneurship and economic development: wouldn’t a private business have to provide assets as collateral for a project?
In addition to what we process onsite we have in the community, we have, umm, grease traps every restaurant and some other food processing places have grease traps and other traps for food waste that then gets collected by a private entity and as their traps are cleaned out and then that material is dumped somewhere. Very often that material comes to our wastewater treatment facility.
275. City Manager Clapper contends that – based on the very plan that he has proposed – waste importation from grease traps will provide a significant part this importation. Does anyone – anyone in all the world – think that local restaurants’ discarded grease will produce vast quantities of methane and tipping fees for even the ‘baby steps’ project he proposes? If some of these restaurants are – by his account – already supplying this grease to Whitewater, of what use is that quantity to the incremental waste dumping he needs to generate tipping fees, etc. for the digester?
We also have food processing plants in the area beyond just our city boundaries, but in the area, that have food waste, ah, high concentrations of byproducts from food processing, all organic material, umm, that they need a place to deposit.
276. Key question: Does City Manager Clapper contend that organic material – discarded from others – is inherently safe? Are not rotting food, human feces, animal feces, and animal carcasses also organic material? How many of those substances would he eat, touch, or willingly slip into the water table?
277. Hasn’t Mr. Clapper’s own chosen vendor – the Donohue firm – already contended that even benign substances in larger qualities are dangerous? If Mr. Clapper is, as he contends in public presentations, knowledgeable about these matters, why does he ignore his own vendor’s assessment?
And so, we have currently, and I wish I had a laser pointer, maybe I can with this cursor, no, I can’t, umm, in the lower right corner of the screen our administration building, right next to the well and right through the door into the place where we have people working there is a dump spot for that waste. Which is very aromatic, to say the least [laughter from audience].
278. About the smell – a complaint that a project in Janesville, WI has elicited from many residents there: does the city manager think that increased importation will make the stench better or worse?
So, umm, and an inadequate site, any big trucks that come in have to snake through, they come down a long road by the power plant and by John’s Disposal, come in, come around down, around again, and back up to that area to dump. What we want to do is establish a more effective, efficient way for them to do that.
And so we’re looking to build a concrete pad on the north side of that digester facility that would allow, it’s actually two or three concrete pads, to address all the different types of waste that would be deposited there, and the different types of, umm, trucks or tankers that would be supplying it.
279. Isn’t a plan for stronger roads for waste haulers’ trucks, and multiple concrete pads confirmation of the size of this effort, and that it’s more than a few grease traps’ of waste?
The material, that, so that’s what we’re doing as part of this project. It’s a few hundred thousand dollars which is a lot of money. It sounds kinda, it makes me ill to say that as if it’s just 300,000 dollars, but it’s a few hundred thousand dollars out of the two-million for this facility that would allow us to have those pads. What that gives us is an opportunity to allow for additional waste to be deposited in our facility and processed.
280. How much additional waste by volume?
Umm, if that were to work, and we found that it was in high demand and the facility was able to function properly without any problems we would go on to explore in future years, five years, ten years, ah, eight years, look at doing more with the equipment inside the digester facility to incorporate the methane, the energy generated by the methane gas that we could then burn into the heating and electricity of the rest of the facility.
281. Isn’t it obvious that this is the thin-entering wedge of a much bigger program? Why, by the way, is there talk about eight or ten years, when supposedly ‘baby steps’ plan is for six?
So, originally, I think the very first time it was brought forward was all kinda one package and the idea that we would be building new digesters, which we are not doing, because we have them already, and in addition, put in all this other stuff in.
282. Why does Cameron Clapper persist in the claim that there was concern about more digesters being built, when that claim has been debunked? See, The City of Whitewater Digester Clarification That Could Use a Clarification. Isn’t it clear by now that the relevant and material concern is hauling waste into Whitewater?
We’re not doing that we’re taking it slow and easy to see if it’s even a viable thing to do.
283. Is better road for trucks and multiple pads for dumping other cities’ unwanted waste is taking it ‘slow and easy’?
But right now many communities throughout the state are switching, their, I guess their focus and mentality with treating wastewater from wastewater treatment to nutrient management, is what it’s called and basically it’s trying to derive from the byproduct of a wastewater treatment facility energy and taking advantage of that sludge and what it can do.
284. If other cities were using all their waste for their own needs, what would there be left for Whitewater? Isn’t it clear that whatever Mr. Clapper considers ‘nutrient management’ to be, it’s not other cities taking waste, but rather other cities dumping their waste in places like Whitewater?
So, umm, another part of the concern, to the question that you asked, Lynn, I think has been that we’d have these tankers with toxic waste driving through our city and dropping waste off at our wastewater treatment facility. That’s not the case.
285. What does Mr. Clapper think toxic means? (See question 277.)
Umm, I think of [sighs] a good example, umm, Hidden Valley Ranch bringing a truck load of all the cream and material that they didn’t use, for their ranch dressing. Bringing it here and dropping it off. Umm, some of those trucks are already coming through anyway whether it be through the bypass or because they have to make stops at different facilities or different buildings in this city.
286. Does Mr. Clapper possibly think that he’ll power this project from unwanted salad dressing?
So, it wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t be anything we’re not already used to and it wouldn’t be toxic, umm, my children are not gonna to glow in the dark when we’re done kinds of stuff [audience laughter]. It’s high concentrations of the same material that’s already going in.
287. Do children only get sick or develop abnormally when they are exposed to substances that make them ‘glow in the dark’? In fact, isn’t it true that every child in the history of the world who grew sick or developed abnormally did so without glowing in the dark? Don’t chemicals cripple and destroy lives each day without fluorescence?
Follow up on 287: Whitewater, is this the quality of your appointed manager’s analysis and understanding?
So in order for that to work we have to evaluate every, every time someone wants to come and drop material off they would have to call ahead, and we would have to get a chemical sample and test that material before we would allow it to stay at our facility, to make sure it doesn’t damage our system and it’s not something other than what we’ve said we’ll accept.
288. What volume does Mr. Clapper expect, that someone would call ahead, and have each truck tested? How does he imagine that system to operate?
289. Isn’t the principal concern not that waste would damage the city’s industrial system, but that it would damage human systems, so to speak, of actual people?
290. Will Cameron Clapper stake his personal assets and his continued municipal employment on a promise by sworn affidavit in which he guarantees that he will provide a verifiable sample from each truckload of waste into the city for testing (by an independent party not of his exclusive selection, available for direct review by any resident), provide proof of the origin of each truckload, and provide proof of the destination of each truckload of sludge (his term, see above) that Whitewater processes?
So, that’s, I don’t know if that answers everything but thank you for that question.
No, Mr. Clapper’s remarks don’t answer everything. I’ve 290 questions, and much more to ask, and to do, as this project advances.
See, on video, Official Remarks of 9.17.15 on Waste Importation from John Adams on Vimeo. The clip is from a longer, 9.17.15 ‘State of the City’ address from Whitewater City Manager Cameron Clapper. The original, full address is online at https://vimeo.com/140321184.