The retired founder of a local wastewater-treatment technology company told the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board yesterday that a plan to burn methane from decaying garbage at Toledo's Hoffman Road landfill to create electricity could be environmentally hazardous.
Pat Nicholson, who founded N-Viro International Inc., said he worries the effects of "volatile organic compounds" at the landfill, which contribute to ozone air pollution, were not researched thoroughly by Toledo officials before City Council awarded a design contract to Cleveland-based Middough Consulting.
Methane from the city's landfill currently is burned off from a visible flaming pipe, or flare. The city would like to capture that energy to create steam-generated electricity at a facility to be built at the wastewater treatment plant.
Mr. Nicholson, who served as chairman of the port authority board for 1 1/2 years and resigned in 2002, spoke during the port board's public comment period. He did so because he said he believes the matter is an economic development issue and because he believes the port authority board needs to make a public statement on the project's air pollution risks.
Toledo already is in violation of the U.S. EPA's ozone standards, a fact that is stressing efforts to attract new industry, he said.
For Mayor Jack Ford and City Council "to have made a decision on this is tragic. ... I don't think anyone in the city is particularly qualified," Mr. Nicholson said. "In analyzing the bids, I saw no mention made ... of VOC emissions."
Tom Palmer, the port board's chairman, said port authority officials would talk to the city about the matter.
Mayor Ford countered yesterday that Hull & Associates of Dublin, Ohio, independently certified the project as beneficial for the environment.
"Pat [Nicholson] wasn't aware how thorough I was on this. We had a team of chemists and engineers look at it twice," the mayor said. "People have been doing this around the country for some years. This is not the first place it has been tried. People will try to make it sound like it's innovative. I think we need to just go ahead and get it done."
Mr. Ford added: "I'm going to take a fourth look at it, even as we negotiate with Middough, to see if there are any other questions unanswered."
Mr. Nicholson and Mr. Ford have a history.
After his election in 2001, Mr. Ford made it clear he would not reappoint Mr. Nicholson to the port authority board, so Mr. Nicholson resigned.
Also, Mr. Ford said his administration renegotiated a $138,000 city contract with N-Viro because council was not properly consulted about the original contract.
"I didn't reappoint him. I thought it was time for new leadership. Secondly, I forced a renegotiation of his N-Viro contract. ... I've heard he doesn't like that," Mr. Ford said. "[But] I'm sure he was only speaking because of the [ozone] issue."
Mr. Nicholson said he was not concerned with the "awarding of certain contracts" and was concerned only about potential environmental stresses on Toledo.
The issue is controversial because Middough's standard design was chosen over a supposedly cutting-edge design developed by Toledo engineer James Opaczewski, whose firm is called Turbo Dynamics.
The Ford administration recommended awarding the project to Middough at $1,753,484. Middough has an office with 60 local employees in Holland.
Mr. Opaczewski's claim to fame is his design of a generator that uses waste steam at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center to save the hospital $2 million a year on electrical costs. His company pitched a custom approach it claimed could save the city up to $4 million a year after the plant is paid off in nine years.
Council voted 7-5 this month to select Middough. Mr. Ford broke a tie on an important vote that cleared the way for Middough's eventual approval.
The port authority board, in other business yesterday, unanimously re-elected Mr. Palmer as chairman and Doni Miller as vice chairman for one-year terms.
"In the coming year, we are going to do what we do best, which is run the region's transportation assets. But we'll also be defining our larger role in the region's economic development efforts," Mr. Palmer said.
The port authority operates Toledo Express and Metcalf airports, the Port of Toledo, and the train station. It also acts as a middleman for business loans and collects a port levy, more than half of which is spent on job creation programs.
Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick