News Column

County Commission extinguishes plan to incinerate yard waste

June 14, 2014

By Kevin Wadlow, Florida Keys Keynoter, (Marathon, Fla.)

June 14--A proposal to incinerate Monroe County's yard waste locally went up in smoke Wednesday.

Monroe County commissioners voted unanimously to eliminate any Florida Keys incineration as an option in new contracts for getting rid of the county's collected tree trimmings and yard cuttings.

Local environmental groups and homeowners associations objected to proposals to allow use of an air-curtain incinerator to dispose of wood debris, saying it could damage air quality and affect residents' health.

"Let's not bring incinerators into the county," Bill Hunter of the Sugarloaf Shores Homeowners Association told commissioners at their Marathon meeting. "You saw a lot of pushback on local air-curtain incineration. That has not changed."

In November, commissioners were poised to give a Lower Keys contractor approval to proceed with a two-year pilot program to use an air-curtain burner -- about the size of a semi-trailer -- that is designed to contain smoke from burning wood debris.

The idea was to reduce costs of having the waste trucked to a mainland waste-to-energy incinerator. Other local sites for additional incinerators were being considered.

By Wednesday, commissioners had changed their minds.

"From the day we mentioned incineration, I didn't think it was a bad idea," Mayor Sylvia Murphy said. "Apparently the rest of the county did."

Commissioner George Neugent acknowledged an "outpouring" of complaints from neighborhoods near the proposed Lower Keys sites. By considering the burn option, hauling contractors are likely to offer lower per-ton rates, he said.

A request for proposals on yard-waste disposal was approved without the local incineration option. Company offers are due by late July.

Crosswalk talk

Also Wednesday, commissioners told staff to review a controversial pedestrian crosswalk in Key Largo.

The U.S. 1 signal installed by the state Department of Transportation at mile marker 99.7 became active in late April. Pedestrians push a button that triggers flashing yellow lights that tell drivers to slow or stop.

Many residents have protested that the signal is confusing and could lead to pedestrian injuries and auto crashes. Another crosswalk -- at an intersection -- is close at mile marker 100.

Sheriff Rick Ramsay is among them. "We don't want it," he said last week. He called the crossing "very dangerous."

Neugent raised the issue Wednesday. "The sheriff wants to get rid of it," Neugent said. "It's surprising that he took such a hard-line position. I'm deducing from that, we have a problem."

County Public Works Director Kevin Wilson said the County Commission several years ago requested some type of U.S. 1 crossing in the area. "The need was identified some time ago, and the [Florida Department of Transportation] put in their work plan," Wilson said. "Now that it's in place, everybody seems surprised that it's there."

Operations of the Key Largo signal have been tweaked to reduce the effect on traffic flow, he said. "There's a lot of light and heat but I don't know if there's a lot of data," Wilson said, noting the success of similar signals in St. Petersburg.

Murphy wants to let DOT deal with the situation. "It's their road and their signal."

Commissioner Danny Kolhage disagreed, "If there's a problem, the sheriff has to deal with it. That's why we're involved."

Probation problem

Court Options Inc., a private firm that has overseen misdemeanor-probation and pre-trial diversion programs locally since 2007, forgot to submit a new contract proposal by the county's advertised May 8 deadline.

But three other companies have submitted packages and were ranked by a selection committee last week.

Court Options management pleaded, "hat in hand," Wednesday for a chance to join the process, citing their wide support from local criminal-justice agencies.

"When I learned we failed to respond [to a request for price quotes], I was flabbergasted," said Chief Operating Officer Eduardo Lacasa. "I couldn't believe it.... We fell asleep at the wheel."

A commission motion to reopen the application process failed, 3-2.

Kolhage said dismissing three valid bids because a fourth bidder wanted in would "put us on shaky ground.... There was not a defect in the process. You knew the termination of the contract was imminent."

A decision to delay awarding the contract to the top-rated firm was delayed until June 30 so county staff can verify the selection committee's decision on rankings.


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Source: Florida Keys Keynoter (Marathon, FL)

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