Newton will keep compost facility open

Newton is planning to invest about $24,000 in its compost facility, but elected officials say that one-time investment is better than spending up to $10,000 a year to haul leaves and brush to the county's landfill.

The city is going to construct a gravel road to its Boston Road compost site, as well as create a silt fence around the site to comply with state erosion control regulations. Newton also faces the prospect of additional expenses — up to $35,000 and more — if the federal government requires additional erosion control measures, said Newton Public Works and Utilities Director Wilce Martin, who recommended closing the site.

However, instead of closing the 65-acre site, Newton City Council directed staff to make state-required changes to avoid monthly tipping fees and manpower that would be required if the city had to find a new place to haul leaves and natural debris.

"I believe it is worth keeping it open for a while," said Council member Wayne Dellinger. "To me, it is worth a gamble."

The city currently disposes of leaves and natural debris collected throughout Newton at the Boston Road compost facility, Martin said.

Those leaves decompose and the city periodically gives away the compost to city residents.

While the city maintains a permit from North Carolina's Department of Environment and Natural Resources to collect and compost the leaves at the site, a December visit by state inspectors revealed that it is not in compliance with state erosion-control regulations.

"The city was cited for not having an approved erosion control plan," Martin told Newton City Council. "It comes down to silt fencing around the site."

Constructing an approved silt fence will cost about $1,120, he said, while building a gravel road would cost almost $23,000 for rocks and gravel alone. City staff would create the road, which is required to allow access for the city's fire department to provide fire protection.

"Compost facilities have been known to spontaneously combust from the heat generated," Martin said. "Basically, this is for the fire department, so they could have access."

Martin warned that "it is only a matter of time" before the city is directed to install a silt pond at the site at an estimated cost of $35,000. The city would also be required to test the pond periodically, which could be costly since samples would be shipped to a commercial laboratory, he said.

Rather than making improvements, Newton's city staff recommended closure of the facility and relocation of existing compost to the county landfill. If the site closed, Martin said Newton Public Works employees would begin hauling leaves and brush to the county's landfill, at a cost of about $9,000 a year, which covers expenses for fuel and landfill tipping fees.

"It costs $9-$10,000 for fuel and tipping fees, plus two or three hours a day for going to the landfill and coming back to the (leaf and debris collection) routes," Dellinger said. "I think it will cost more than $9,000 to take it out there. "

In supporting state-required improvements to the property, Dellinger also encouraged city staff to not seek trouble when it comes to additional requirements like a silt pond.

"Don't ask any questions. Just do the two things they told us to do and keep going," he said. "You get in trouble when you ask questions."

Council member Wes Weaver cast a motion to keep open the compost facility, and Dellinger offered a second. City Council voted unanimously to maintain the compost facility during its January meeting.