Despite initial approval, county puts yard-waste incineration on hold for now

kwadlow@keynoter.comFebruary 22, 2014 

Monroe County commissioners on Wednesday put on hold plans to install an air-curtain incinerator on Ramrod Key to burn yard waste.

Speaking at the board's meeting in Key Largo, several residents cited environmental or health concerns about feeding the county's yard waste into an incinerator rather than turning the waste into mulch through composting.

However, the deciding factor for commissioners centered on the lack of an open bid process for the contract to get rid of yard waste and wood debris.

"We have one quote from one vendor that seems to save us money," Commissioner Heather Carruthers said. "I don't think I'm in the best position to make a decision because I only know one side of equation."

Currently, Monroe County pays $84.50 per ton to have yard waste trucked to mainland disposal sites.

Lower Keys contractor Rudy Krause proposed installing the air-curtain incinerator, about the size of a truck trailer, on his Ramrod Key commercial property. The open burning bin uses a powerful fan to create an "air curtain" that contains most embers and smoke.

Krause said his company would burn yard waste for $60 per ton, potentially saving the county more than $200,000 annually. He pledged to compost and mulch as much material as feasible. Commissioners previously endorsed the incinerator concept for a two-year pilot program.

On Wednesday, county Sustainability Program manager Rhonda Haag told the board that other firms have since expressed interest in contracting for similar operations. Haag also raised the possibility of installing an air-curtain incinerator at the county's North Key Largo waste-transfer station.

Ramrod Key resident Margaret Sprague told the commissioners even a small amount of smoke from the proposed incinerator would aggravate her pulmonary condition and "really impact my health."

Members of Last Stand, the Izaak Walton League, the Tavernier Community Association and the county's own Climate Change Committee urged the commission to do more research on the practicality of composting.

"This opens the door to more burning in Keys and that's a very big deal," said No Name Key resident Alicia Putney.

Commissioner David Rice agreed the county needs to look at alternative proposals and systems. He apologized to Krause: "You wasted a lot of your time, and we screwed you around."

Haag will return to the board's March meeting to present a proposed request-for-proposals plan.

Among other issues Wednesday:

  • Commissioners supported board member Danny Kolhage's resolution to dedicate up to $2 million in next year's infrastructure sales-tax revenues to serve as matching funds for state purchase of sensitive Keys lands.
County staff reported that any new funding from the state's Florida Forever conservation program to buy Keys properties seems remote unless the county contributes up to 50 percent of the cost.

The pledge -- not a formal allocation -- seeks to "stimulate the state of Florida to get back in the game," Kolhage said. The state aims to focus Florida Forever spending on protecting military bases and preserving freshwater springs.

  • County consultant Bruce Cowan outlined options for raising building-permit fees to better cover the county's costs of permitting and inspections.
Currently, the county spends $4.6 million annually on permitting costs, which is $2 million more than paid in permit fees, Cowan said.

Commissioners said they want to increase the revenue, but are wary of raising fees to the point where it encourages unpermitted construction.

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