Toledo City Council Tuesday put to rest a highly charged debate over what to do with the city's sewage sludge, voting to allow one company to take all the material to a facility beside Maumee Bay.
Under the approved contract, the city will pay Whitehouse-based S&L Fertilizer $760,000 a year to truck all the sludge produced by the city's wastewater treatment plant to a site known as "Facility 3." S&L mixes the sludge with dredged material stored at the facility and converts it into a type of soil used for landfill cover and other purposes.
The practice has raised alarm bells for Councilman D. Michael Collins, who has argued for weeks that the contaminants from the sludge could potentially leak from Facility 3 into Lake Erie. Toledo's wastewater plant treats the sludge to remove most pathogens, but traces of contaminants such as E. coli and algae-causing phosphorus still remain.
Tuesday, Mr. Collins and councilman Lindsay Webb urged their colleagues to postpone voting on the S&L contract and allow scientists from the University of Toledo to conduct additional studies on the facility at a cost of $5,000. Those pleas were rejected by the administration, and a majority of councilmen, who argued enough testing has been done at the site and it would be a waste of time and money to authorize more.
Council voted 8-3 to approve the contract. Council members Mr. Collins, Ms. Webb, and Rob Ludeman voted against.
"I think the people who got hurt today were the citizens of Toledo and those who value our environment with respect to the western basin of Lake Erie," Mr. Collins said after the vote. "Without a test this council allowed this community ... to proceed forward with a leap of faith and I sincerely hope that leap of faith was not misplaced."
But Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said the site had already been tested by the city's Environmental Services Department and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. He said four tests proved no contaminants are leaking from the facility.
Councilman Joe McNamara said postponing the contract further would cost the city an extra $2,500 a week. He said the debate over the contract had been fired up by another company, N-Viro, which lost its own bid to handle the sludge.
"I think we need to do what's best for the taxpayers," the councilman said. "If this becomes a problem we stop doing it. But I think this panic has been induced by the company who lost the bid."
Also Tuesday, Mayor Mike Bell along with city councilmen bid a formal farewell to Police Chief Mike Navarre, who retires at the end of the week. Council acknowledged Chief Navarre's service and achievements during his 13-year tenure and praised his ability to stay calm under pressure.
"You've done a tremendous job," said Mayor Bell, who as a former fire chief worked alongside Chief Navarre. "You'll be missed."
Councilman Steven Steel said Chief Navarre had managed to thrive in his position and maintain effective police services despite cutbacks and other budgetary pressures.
Council also voted to delay for two weeks a vote on amending guidelines for a business incentive program run by the city. The vote came after Councilmen McNamara and Adam Martinez announced their intentions to set up a special task force to review all of the city's incentives for spurring economic development. Deputy Mayor Tom Crothers said he would review their proposal.
Councilmen McNamara and Martinez also gave a biting critique of the proposal by a Cleveland-based company to renovate the dilapidated Berdan Building in Toledo's downtown. Both repeated their fears that the project -- which hinges on millions in government loans -- could leave the city heavily indebted if it fails.
However, council voted 8-3 to add the Berdan Building to documents for submittal to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which will decide whether to approve a $10 million loan for the project. Councilman Rob Ludeman, who voted in favor, said he has confidence in the developers and believes the project is crucial to the future success of downtown.
Contact Claudia Boyd-Barrett at: email@example.com or 419-724-6272.