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Updated 12:17pm - Sep 29, 2014

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Building local infrastructure

Mayor Herb Kolodner explains how the trash-to-power concept works as he reviews documents on the subject.  (Stephen M. Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).
Mayor Herb Kolodner explains how the trash-to-power concept works as he reviews documents on the subject. (Stephen M. Corley/ The Daily Triplicate).

By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

It's not just about providing cheap electricity to Del Norte County residents. And it's not only about finding a way to deal with the county's garbage.

The concept of an operating trash-to-power incinerator in the county is connected to a much broader vision of the general health of the community, according to Crescent City Mayor Herb Kolodner.

"We either grow or we die as a county or a city," Kolodner said yesterday. "We don't have the forestry industry and we don't have the fishery much anymore. If we want to attract companies from Silicon Valley or a Microsoft, we can say, ‘Hey, we have the affordable land, we have the manpower, and we now have the infrastructure.'"

Kolodner, who has just returned from touring a similar plant in Stanislaus County, said the trash-to-power operation is successful there.

"It's been a profitable operation for their company servicing Modesto and Stanislaus County," said Kolodner. "If we can do that here – great. And they've been operating for 13 years and have never been out of spec with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)."

Since the Crescent City City Council and the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors approved the concept last month, Kolodner has been asked what action will be taken next.

"People have been asking, ‘Where do we go from here now that we have a concurrence from the City Council and the Board of Supervisors,?'" Kolodner said. "The next step is forming a working group, and we'll probably get together next week."

But, Kolodner adds, no decisions will be made without input from the community first.

He and Supervisor Chuck Blackburn agreed to co-chair an ad hoc committee to "take this to a logical conclusion," he said. The committee should have acquired enough information for the community to make a decision by October at the latest.

"It's important for people to know we will have had or will have a town hall meeting by that time, too," Kolodner said. "This is something we will be doing with the community – not for the community."

Kolodner stressed he is only advocating the concept at this stage and he is not trying to force the idea on the community. He said unless the forthcoming data supports its practicality in Del Norte's region, he will not press it further.

"We want to take the information before the two groups (the City Council and Board of Supervisors) and say ‘This is what we found – here are the pros and cons – and they will make the decision,'" Kolodner said.

In the weeks since the idea was first introduced to the City Council, Kolodner said he has continued to research different options for the concept. One includes a joint-powers authority between Del Norte, Humboldt and Curry counties.

"I just researched that this morning and I was told there wouldn't be a problem" with Curry County, a non-California entity, joining the JPA, said Kolodner.

The optimum size of the incinerator would burn 300 tons of refuse per day for fuel. For this to function without interruption, trash from all three counties would be needed. Kolodner said this option may solve that problem.

A smaller model would also work, which would burn 150 tons per day and could operate without refuse from Oregon, but trash from Humboldt would still be needed.

One benefit of the incinerator, Kolodner mentioned, is that it would reduce the amount of tonnage the county must ship out of the county once the landfill is closed. An argument against that is it still would not save the county much, or any, money in the long run. Although incineration would reduce the approximately 50 tons per day of Del Norte garbage to about five tons, an extra 250 tons per day of fresh trash from Humboldt would increase the ultimate shipping tonnage to 30 tons.

"That may be true but I have every expectation the ash can be reduced still further," said Kolodner. "I anticipate the ash will be used for road base, stabilizing mountainsides and as covering for the landfill."

The cost of building the incinerator and the quagmire of environmental hurdles it must navigate around is another question Kolodner said he has asked. According to Kolodner's figures, the cost of building the facility could run anywhere from $15 million to $25 million. He said federal and state grants could pay for some or all of the construction.

Covanta Energy, the engineering firm that constructed the Stanislaus plant, has offered some enticements should it get a contract with the county.

"This one company will get all the approvals, the permits and the grants because it's been through it all. We don't need to get involved. And it will operate the incinerator with its trained operators. We don't need to get involved," said Kolodner.

"This is only one way to go – there are several other ways," he said, adding he would prefer the incinerator eventually to be fully operated by a local work force.

"Their plant has 30 to 40 people working in it at $20 (per hour)," Kolodner said. "OK, maybe that would be $15 an hour here. That's still better than our kids getting out of high school and earning minimum wage. You can't support a family on that."

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