When the city and its Department of Public Works started a city composting program back in 1998, the intent was to provide low-cost service to residents.
But today, the compost site across from the DPW on South Franklin Street is in a state of disarray, and constant misuse and safety concerns have forced city officials to consider investing in the property to change how things are done there.
A huge pile of yard waste on the edge of the site near the road is what the DPW has been collecting from city residents, as well as from the village of Homer and the town of Cortlandville, who operate the program jointly with the city. The leaves and branches are then sent through a massive wood chipper called a tub grinder and turned to mulch, which is then given away.
But on a hot and humid Thursday afternoon Chris Bistocchi, DPW superintendent, walked through the roughly 2-acre site to point out the main issues his department has been struggling to get under control.
Among the piles of mulch and leaves decomposing into topsoil are two equally large piles Bistocchi said he and others would rather not see. The first is a pile of wood containing everything from enormous tree limbs to whole stumps. While this is typically what the DPW is willing to accept, he said this debris is simply much too large to go into the DPW’s tub grinder.
But it’s the second pile, though, that’s the main source of frustration for the department.
Toward the south end of the site stands a wall made of construction and demolition waste. Here lies about a year’s worth of refuse containing plastic, glass, concrete blocks, roof shingles, and processed wood treated with chemicals and riddled with nails and bits of metal.
Bistocchi said some of these materials come mixed in with yard waste, but it’s mostly due to illegal dumping going on when employees aren’t around after operating hours.
This poses safety concerns because when these materials are fed into the tub grinder, a stone or piece of scrap metal can turn into a projectile that can do serious damage. Even the smaller, less harmful bits are problematic, Bistocchi said, because people just don’t want them in their mulch.
“That stuff has to be taken down to the landfill, which costs us $60 a ton,” he said. “It gets to be expensive and the taxpayers got to pay for it.”
Deputy DPW Supervisor Nick Dovi said he has spent the last year or so working on a solution: Building a fence around the perimeter of the compost site and creating two drop-off points –– one for residents and one for large trucks.
Not only will the fence put an end to illegal dumping, but he hopes that creating a separate drop-off for residents will keep them as far away from the tub grinder as possible, just in case undetected debris becomes unexpectedly airborne.
Dovi said that preliminary estimates put the cost of the fence between $10,000 and $12,000 — depending on if the DPW wants to spend an extra $2,000 on a gate. Dovi added that the DPW can handle much of the work on its own, as it has most of the needed materials on hand. Signage and possibly security cameras are also being considered.
Dovi said funding might be available through the Cortland County Soil and Water Conservation District, though no details on that funding stream were available this morning. In the short term, the DPW will likely develop the road to become an access point for a residential drop-off near the northern end of the site this summer, he said.
“It’s been a process,” Dovi said. “I think we’re going to just piecemeal it together and then ultimately, at some point, we’ll have it where we want it.”