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Resource reclaimed: Compost site cleanup underway; new rules posted

The city composting site at 901 Locust St. (by the school-bus garage) opened for residents during the early 1990s. Today it looks more like a landfill than a resource.

Nobody knows for sure how it got that way, but new Public Works Superintendent Frank Gaillard is taking steps to turn the site around.

He's been on the job since late January and was surprised to find the compost site piled high with asphalt, concrete, wood and construction materials.

Materials that do belong at the site are all mixed together and not usable because of the mixing.

Grass clippings, leaves, sod, brush and tree trimmings must be stored separately to make rich topsoil or viable wood mulch.

Another concern is that the junky site borders a trout pond and the Kinnickinnic River.

Gaillard and department workers have put into motion a plan to reclaim the resource that the compost site should be. He recommended several actions and new policies to the City Council at its last meeting.

These are intended to prepare for the site's April 8 opening:

  • Restrict what type of materials people can bring

  • Don't allow contractors to dump there

  • Install new locks and reinforce the site's fence and gate

  • Restrict access to city residents only

  • Hire an attendant to direct traffic and check people's residency

  • Arrange to haul away the tons of accumulated asphalt and concrete

  • Level and grade the site once cleanup is finished

    Each council member praised Gaillard for his efforts and encouraged him to proceed with the changes.

    Contractors and non-city residents will probably notice the biggest change: Neither will be allowed to bring materials to the compost site anymore.

    Public Works created a big sign declaring some of the new rules plus reinforced the site's fence and gate.

    Apparently too many people had a key to the old lock, so workers installed a new one.

    "I'm sure I'll be getting calls," said the new superintendent.

    Gaillard knows it will take many months or maybe even a year to clean up all the materials that have accumulated there, but he's committed to getting the site right.

    He's in the process of finding contractors interested in all the gravel and concrete that needs to be disposed of properly.

    He said the material can be crushed, processed and turned into rock that goes under road surfaces.

    Gaillard suggests that people who need to properly dispose of asphalt or concrete should call demolition sites or the state and county. Many concrete and asphalt plants accept clean materials - with no grass, dirt or steel rebar in it.

    New norm

    People coming to the compost site should bring their driver's license or something that proves they're a city resident. The site isn't open to people from surrounding towns and rural areas.

    "People are paying for the service," Gaillard said, referring to the fact that a small portion of residents' solid waste charges pay for maintaining the compost site.

    What city residents can bring there: Grass clippings, leaves, brush and branches. To transform clippings and leaves into good topsoil, they must be separated from other materials and turned at least once a year (aerated). Gaillard said brush and branches can be turned into different kinds of wood mulch depending on which kind of machine grinds it up.

    The idea and original purpose of the compost site is to accept yard waste and make something useful out of it. Gaillard envisions storing topsoil and mulch that residents could have free and that the city could use in parks and soil beds.

    "I want to have a stockpile of that for people to use if they wish," Gaillard said.

    To help keep things separated, he said the site will eventually have more signage directing people where to take what materials.

    Oil only

    Gaillard also made changes to improve conditions at the city's oil recycling center. The city began it as a service to residents in 1994, but up until two weeks ago, the "site" was a big mess.

    "There have been a lot of issues with that oil barrel," Gaillard said.

    With only a three-hour window during which to drop off oil on Saturday, people needed more access. They had also become accustomed to dropping things off after hours, leaving them outside the fence near the oil barrel.

    What resulted is Public Works receiving all kinds of hazardous chemicals that it doesn't have the resources to process: Paint, antifreeze, auto batteries and more.

    Public works recently moved the oil recycling barrel to the inside of a storage building at the compost site. Its new placement keeps it out of the weather and discourages people from pouring in other chemicals that contaminate the oil.

    Gaillard said people probably don't realize that the city can get 40 cents per gallon for used oil. It doesn't sound like much but adds up fast considering that the River Falls center takes in 6,000-8,000 gallons of used oil per year.

    He said, "I'm hoping that number will increase as accessibility (to the site) increases."

    The money made from used oil can also help offset the upkeep costs for the compost site and oil recycling center.

    The biggest change: The center's new location. People should also keep in mind that the city can only accept used motor oil - no other chemicals.

    Leaving paint, batteries or other chemicals sitting somewhere only creates problems because rain washes harmful substances into the groundwater.

    People who need to get rid of other hazardous material should call the Pierce County Recycling Center in Ellsworth: 273-3092 or

    The oil recycling site usually opens the first weekend in March but now has the same hours and open dates as the compost site that opens April 8.

    Conditions of reform

    Many changes to improve the city's compost and oil-recycling site (901 Locust St.) have either happened already or are in process:

  • Only city residents allowed, no contractors

  • No construction materials allowed

  • Incoming materials limited to grass, leaves, brush and tree branches

  • Site gate, fence and locks reinforced

  • Attendant on duty to guide people and spot check for residency

  • New rules given on bigger signage at site

  • Oil recycling barrel now at compost site, not at Public Works building

  • Only chemical accepted for recycling is oil

  • Call Pierce County Recycling center to dispose of other hazardous chemicals

  • Asphalt and concrete at site to be removed and recycled

    Site hours

  • Tuesdays & Thursdays: 4-7 p.m.

  • Saturdays: 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.

  • Sundays: April 9 to May 14, 1-5 p.m. and Oct. 15 to Nov. 12, 1-5 p.m.
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