The Ann Arbor Chronicle » compost it's like being there Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:59:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Kingsley & Detroit Thu, 08 May 2014 17:43:12 +0000 Mary Morgan Buckets of compost for sale in front of Zingerman’s Deli, $5 each. [photo]

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Fountain & Cherry Fri, 03 Jan 2014 19:09:08 +0000 Trevor Staples The snow is as high as a composter’s eye (well, a small composter). [photo]

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Ann Arbor Council Focuses on Land Issues Thu, 09 Dec 2010 21:33:17 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council meeting (Dec. 6, 2010): Five different presentations, plus a full roster of public commentary, meant that two and a half hours into their meeting the Ann Arbor city council had not transacted any business – except for adopting its rules for the next year.


Before the meeting started, Scott Rosencrans, right, knocks on wood in conversation with Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2). Behind them are Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Nicholas Nightwine, president of the city's AFSCME union Local 369. Nightwine was there to oppose the outsourcing of city composting operations. Rosencrans, former chair of the park advisory commission, attended as part of a presentation made by the Ann Arbor Skatepark. (Photos by the writer.)

Council rules factored prominently later in the meeting, when a motion to suspend them failed. Had the rules been suspended, it would have cleared the way for the council to reconsider their previous decision to reject a residential planned unit development (PUD) on Fifth Avenue – Heritage Row. The project, which began as a conditional rezoning proposal three years ago, went through iterations since 2007 that included a brownstone-style PUD and a matter-of-right proposal called City Place, which eventually did win approval from the council.

After their previous council meeting, which featured water as a prominent theme, the council focused much of its attention on land-related issues like Heritage Row. In another land-use related item, the council approved revisions to the city’s area, height and placement (AHP) zoning provisions in the city code. But amendments to the AHP resolution were substantive enough that the approval process was reset to the initial, first-reading step. The AHP changes – which, as amended, provide that height limits do not apply in so-called “employment districts,” unless they abut residential areas – will need approval at a second reading in order to be enacted.

A land-use item that was intended mostly as administrative housekeeping – several park areas previously designated as residential, office, and business districts were rezoned with the public land (PL) designation – generated substantial public commentary and council deliberations. Several public commenters expressed concern about whether the PL designations, which the council approved, afforded adequate protection for the continued use of the land as parks.

Although not strictly a land-use issue in a zoning sense, a proposed contract with WeCare Organics to operate the city’s compost facility was linked to terra firma by acreage owned by the city where the facility is located, plus the fact that it processes yard waste generated from residents’ property. The council approved the WeCare contract after extended questioning of city staff and a representative from WeCare.

Also tangentially related to land use was an item that introduced a licensing scheme for medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities in the city. After questioning the city attorney about several provisions of his proposed licensing requirements, councilmembers decided to postpone the issue until their Jan. 3, 2011 meeting. The new zoning regulations regarding where medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities can be located, which were scheduled to be heard at second reading on Dec. 20, were rescheduled for Jan. 18.

A land travel-related agenda item the adoption of the Michigan Vehicle Code (MVC) as part of the city’s traffic ordinances. Two years ago, the city had adopted the MVC but excluded portions of that state law relating to the setting of speed limits. The adoption of the full MVC came in response to a possible class-action lawsuit against the city.

As heavily land-centric as the agenda was, Ann Arbor city council also dealt with $9 million worth of water issues. It approved petitions of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner (WCWRC) office for five different projects in drainage districts that lie at least partly inside the city of Ann Arbor. The total cost of all the projects, including the non-city share, is a bit over $9 million. They qualify for low-interest state-revolving fund loans, up to 50% of which may be forgiven by the state. The payments on the loans will come from the city’s stormwater fund.

New Council Rules

The council formally adopted its rules for the coming year, without commentary. The rules included two revisions, which can be traced to the filing of a lawsuit by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center in 2009. The lawsuit included allegations that the city council violated the Open Meetings Act by engaging in deliberative email communications with each other out of public view, but during their public meetings.

The council had previously enacted a rule that limits their use of email during their meetings and provides that any emails that are sent or received during a meeting by councilmembers are routinely attached to the meeting’s minutes. But the lawsuit settlement, which left open the question of whether the city council violated the Michigan Open Meetings Act, required the city council to consider formally the enactment of an additional rule stipulating that they only use their government accounts for city council business. That consideration took place at the council’s April 19, 2010 meeting in the form of a resolution remanding the issue to the council’s rules committee. [Coverage and analysis of that meeting: "Ann Arbor City Council Also Remands Email Rule to Committee"]

The rules committee is – by council rule – required to report back to the council at its next meeting. However, the rules committee did not mention its work on the email rule until Oct. 19, 2010. From The Chronicle’s coverage of that meeting:

Comm/Comm: Email Rule

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) reported out from the council rules committee that in November they would likely have a recommendation for a change to email rules. By way of background, as part of a lawsuit settlement, the council agreed to formally consider a rule on use of non-government email accounts. The council satisfied the requirement of the settlement in the spring by remanding the question to its rules committee, which – by council rule – should have reported back to the council at the council’s subsequent regular meeting.

The two revisions to the council rules adopted at Monday’s meeting were as follows [added material in italics and deleted material in strike-through]:

RULE 15 – Committees and Officers Must Report

All committees and officers shall make immediate report on matters referred to them at the first stated meeting after such references unless further time shall be given them by the Council or unless requested to report to the working committee.

All committees and officers shall make immediate report on matters referred to them at the first stated meeting of Council after such referrals are first addressed by the committee or the officer unless another time shall be given them by the Council or unless requested to report to the work committee. In any event, a status report should be given to the Council by a committee after each meeting of the committee at which the referred matter is discussed.

RULE 18 – Council Email

Councilmembers shall use the City electronic mail system for their electronic mail communications for City business.

Outcome: The city council voted unanimously to adopt its new council rules.

Heritage Row

The  council was set to take a sequence of three votes on the Heritage Row PUD (planned unit development) project, which would have concluded with the scheduling of a reconsideration of the proposal as a first-reading agenda item on Dec. 20. [.pdf of the set of parliamentary motions]

The residential project, located on the east side of South Fifth Avenue, would renovate seven houses and construct three new 3.5-story apartment buildings behind those houses, with an underground parking garage. The city council has already reconsidered the project once before – at its July 6, 2010 meeting. That reconsideration came after the council had initially rejected it on June 21 with a 7-4 vote in favor. The project needs an 8-vote super-majority due to a successful petition filed by adjoining property owners. At the July 6 meeting, the project was nearly reconsidered yet another time at the same meeting, as Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) appeared ready to change his vote – but he withdrew his motion to suspend the rules, and no additional reconsideration occurred.

On Monday, the proposal that was intended to be reconsidered by the items sponsors –  Sandi Smith (Ward 1) and Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) – included the following revisions: (1) the top floor of the new south building would be removed from the design; (2) the density would be reduced from 79 units to 76 units and the number of bedrooms would be reduced from 154 to 147; (3) the project would include five affordable units at the 50% AMI (average median income) level, in addition to six affordable units at the 80% AMI level; and (4) the three new buildings would be LEED certified [.pdf of current proposal] [Previous Chronicle coverage: "Heritage Row Redux: Again"]

The first in the sequence of three votes was a motion to suspend the council rules:

RESOLVED, That the following requirements of Council Rule 12 be suspended for the sole purpose of allowing Councilmember Derezinski to request City Council reconsideration of the Heritage Row PUD Zoning and the PUD Site Plan and Development Agreement:

  • The requirement that the motion for reconsideration be made by a member voting with the prevailing side
  • The requirement that the motion be made at the same or the next regular meeting of Council
  • The requirement that a motion only be reconsidered once

When the council came to the item on its agenda, Derezinski began to introduce the substance behind the motion. But Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) objected, noting that a motion to suspend the council rules is, from a parliamentary point of view, not debatable. That observation was confirmed by city attorney Stephen Postema. Derezinski ventured that explaining what the motion would do did not amount to debating it. Postema stated that the motion was self-explanatory.

[Editor's note: The agenda item was labeled a "motion" but in every other respect resembled a "resolution," including written text with "whereas" and "resolved" clauses. We leave to parliamentarians the question of whether the issue could have properly been debated as a resolution.]

Without the benefit of any debate, the council voted.

Outcome: The 2/3 majority of members present that was needed to suspend the council rules was not achieved – the vote was 6-5 in favor of suspension. All four councilmembers who had previously voted against Heritage Row voted against suspending the council rules: Mike Anglin (Ward 5), Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5), Sabra Briere (Ward 1), and Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3). They were joined by Marcia Higgins (Ward 4).

On July 6, when the council had successfully suspended the rules, the 2/3 majority had been achieved with Higgins’ vote, which made seven. That was enough for the 2/3 majority – out of 10 present – because Mike Anglin (Ward 5) had been absent on that occasion.


Christopher Taylor and Stephen Kunselman, Ward 3 council colleagues, share a smile.

At Monday’s meeting, Kunselman had left the table and was outside council chambers when the rollcall vote was called. Briere, possibly alert to the possibility that his absence could have resulted in a 7-3 outcome – enough to get the rules suspended – asked for a brief delay, which lasted only a few seconds until Kunselman returned to his seat. Christopher Taylor, Kunselman’s Ward 3 colleague, congratulated him on his timing.

The developer of the project, Alex de Parry, and his wife Betsy de Parry were in council chambers for the vote, having returned to Ann Arbor from Denver earlier in the day. In a phone interview with The Chronicle on Tuesday, de Parry said that he landed in Ann Arbor to find a voicemail on his phone from Sandi Smith indicating that the one vote she’d counted on changing to give his project approval would not be forthcoming.

De Parry said that through August, he’d worked with Briere and Derezinski to revise the project in a way that would gain enough support to win council approval. [Additional insight from Chronicle coverage of a September city council caucus: "Council Chess Talk: Building City Place"] De Parry indicated that as they were working on LEED certification requirements, Briere had decided not to continue in the discussions, and her Ward 1 colleague, Sandi Smith, had taken up the issue. [The project itself is in Ward 5.]

In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, after the Monday council meeting, The Chronicle asked Smith why she and Derezinski went to the trouble to bring the item forward to the agenda, if they were not certain there were sufficient votes. Smith indicated that she had confirmation from a councilmember who’d previously voted no, that they would support the project in the way it had been revised.

As far as what happens next with the Fifth Avenue properties, de Parry was not certain – he’d been working on the assumption that Heritage Row was on a path to approval. [Among his options are: (1) to start from scratch with the city's site plan approval process for the revised version of Heritage Row; (2) build the matter-of-right City Place project that already has approval; or (3) sell City Place to another developer.]

Area, Height, and Placement

At Monday’s meeting, the council considered a set of changes in the city’s zoning code for areas outside the downtown, across most of the city’s zoning classifications, for regulations affecting area, height and placement (AHP).

The council had already given initial approval of the AHP revisions at its Sept. 7, 2010 meeting. The changes are intended to allow more compact use of land, preserve natural systems, accommodate new growth along transit corridors, and locate buildings to promote non-motorized access. [Previous Chronicle coverage of the city planning commission’s deliberations on AHP changes: “AHP Zoning Revisions Go to City Council”]

The measure was set to be voted on for final, second-reading approval the council’s Oct. 4 meeting, but was postponed at the request of Marcia Higgins (Ward 4). At the council’s Oct. 18 meeting, Higgins brought forth amendments that removed some of the height restrictions that were part of the revision to the code. After some deliberation on the merits of the amendments, Higgins withdrew them and the council again elected to postpone the measure. At its Nov. 15 meeting, the council again put off a vote on the proposal.

At Monday’s meeting, Higgins again brought forward her set of amendments, to ensure that zoning districts that provide for employment uses – Office (O), Research (RE), Office/Research/Limited Industrial (ORL) – are not subject to a cap on building height, except in areas directly abutting residential areas.

The amendments proposed by Higgins, which the council approved, changed the ordinance revision in a substantial enough way that the council’s eventual approval of the AHP proposal on Monday counted only as a first-reading, initial approval.

AHP: Council Deliberations

Higgins led off deliberations by thanking her council colleagues for their patience. She proposed her amendments, which removed the height caps in areas that are considered to have potential for high employment – Office (O), Research (RE), Office/Research/Limited Industrial (ORL). She had originally included M1 (Limited Industrial) districts as well, but told her colleagues that she’d taken them off the table.

Hearing that M1 was no longer part of the set of Higgins’ amendments, Sandi Smith (Ward 4) (Ward 1) was prepared to support the amendments without modification. She’d had concerns about property near the railroad and the Huron River, zoned M1, that would have had no height cap.

Outcome on Higgins’ amendment: The council unanimously approved Higgins’ amendments to the AHP revisions.

Smith then proposed an amendment of her own, to remove the minimum square footage and width requirement for residential, single-family dwelling districts. Smith’s proposed deletion is indicated by strike-through:

(2) Permitted principal uses.

(a) Single-family dwelling firmly attached to a permanent foundation, connected to a public sewer and water supply, at least 14 feet wide and contain at least 900 square feet of floor area. Single-family dwellings in the R1E district shall not exceed 2,000 square feet of floor area.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) inquired what the rationale was for the minimum width and floor area. Upon confirmation from Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, that it was to prevent placement of mobile homes in these districts, said that he would not be supporting the amendment.

Mayor John Hieftje elicited from Rampson the fact that attachment to a permanent foundation would also mitigate against mobile homes. Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Mike Anglin (Ward 5) and Kunselman batted the amendment around, in the course of which various facts about mobile homes emerged: a single-wide trailer typically measures 12-14 feet wide, while a double-wide measures 25-30 feet.

Smith noted that the difficulty in trying to prevent the use of manufactured housing is that it’s a building method more-so than a type of housing.

Outcome on Smith’s amendment: The council approved Smith’s amendment, with dissent from Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), Christopher Taylor (Ward 3), Stephen Kunsleman (Ward 3) and Mike Anglin (Ward 5).

Before the vote on the whole set of revisions as amended, Higgins expressed her thanks to the planning staff, and Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) added a layer of thanks.

Outcome: The AHP revisions were unanimously approved by the council, but the amendments were substantial enough that the approval was considered to be only the initial, first-reading approval. An additional approval will be necessary to enact the revisions.

Rezoning of Parks to Public Land

Before the council was a resolution to rezone several park properties (Arbor Oaks Park, Berkshire Creek Nature Area, Bluffs Nature Area, Glacier Highlands Park, Mallets Creek Nature Area, Scheffler Park) from various zoning classifications – AG (Agriculture District), R1B and R1C (Single-Family Dwelling Districts), R4A and R4B (Multiple-Family Dwelling Districts), O (Office District), C1 (Local Business District) – to PL (Public Land District). The resolution is part of an ongoing comprehensive effort by planning staff to identify land used as parks and to assign it the zoning classification that the city deems appropriate to parks.

Parks to Public Land: Public Hearing

Thomas Partridge addressed the council on the rezoning, making a point that he’s made in connection to many similar rezoning proposals – that it does not go far enough because there is no stipulation that areas be set aside for use as affordable housing.

Several other speakers – Ethel Potts, Kathy Boris, Rita Mitchell and Dorothy Nordness – expressed their concern that the PL designation does not afford adequate protection for the park areas. [.pdf of full text of Mitchell's commentary]

That concern stems from the fact that other land – along Fuller Road, which is also designated as PL – is now planned for use as a parking garage and eventually a rail transit center: Fuller Road Station. [A council work session on Fuller Road Station, originally scheduled for Dec. 13, 2010, has been canceled. The cancellation was announced at Monday's meeting by city administrator, Roger Fraser.]

The land where Fuller Road Station is planned is currently used as a surface parking lot. At its July 6, 2010 meeting, the council had approved a change in the definition of the PL designation to include “transportation facilities” as a possible use, to make clear that the Fuller Road Station fell within the possible uses for PL. Before the council enacted that change, based on a recommendation from the city planning commission, the possible uses included municipal airports, among other things.

In that context, Boris, during her time at the podium, asked the council what assurance the public had that the land being rezoned to PL that night would not be repurposed as a transportation facility. Potts challenged the council to provide assurance that park land can be protected for continued use as parks. Mitchell pointed specifically to the part of the zoning code that provides: “No structure shall be erected or maintained upon dedicated park land which is not customarily incidental to the principal use of the land.” [The city's analysis of the Fuller Road property is that it is not technically "dedicated park land."]

Parks to Public Land: Council Deliberations

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) inquired why the Arbor Hills Nature Area – which had appeared on an original list of park areas recommended by planning staff to be rezoned as PL – was not included in the recommendation. The conclusion of that discussion with Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, included the fact that the land is currently zoned as a planned unit development (PUD) in connection with a condominium development, with includes various utilities.

Outcome: The rezoning of the parks properties was unanimously approved by the council.

Compost Facility

Before the council was a resolution to approve a five-year contract with WeCare Organics for the operation of the city’s composting operations. The arrangement would result in the payment of tipping fees by the city to WeCare in an amount not to exceed $200,000 a year, and the transfer of current city union workers at the facility to other open positions at the city. The move is estimated to save the city’s solid waste fund about $65,000 in the current fiscal year and more than $375,000 a year starting in FY 2012, which begins July 1, 2011. The resolution had been postponed from the council’s Nov. 15 meeting, when it received considerable discussion by the council and commentary from the public.

The proposal to transform the city’s compost center to a merchant operation had previously been discussed with the council during the FY 2011 budget planning process at a March 8, 2010 budget work session. From Chronicle coverage of that session:

Conversion to Merchant Composting Operations

McCormick’s budget impact statement for solid waste also indicates a net gain of $150,000 for the possible transfer of the city’s composting facility to a merchant operation. That gain was due to a one-time capital recovery for the sale of equipment to the successful bidder on the request for proposals (RFP). The city’s RFP for the composting operations indicates that the equipment would include items like front-end loaders, light-duty trucks, and tub grinders.

Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) inquired about any implications for the city’s labor agreement. McCormick told him there were two full-time positions at the city that would be lost – a mechanic and a supervisor – but that the city had held vacancies open for them in other parts of the organization.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) wondered what would happen if the city contracted with a merchant, then elected to decide against that contractor based on performance and then opt for a different contractor. McCormick indicated that the city had received four strong responses to the RFP.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) was clear about his opposition to the the proposed conversion to merchant operations: “I’m really opposed to this,” he said. At the second round of budget talks he had already expressed skepticism about the idea.

Kunselman’s opposition is based in part on an inherent skepticism about the viability of yard waste compost as a commodity, along the lines of recyclable material. [The city uses a merchant operation for its materials recovery facility.] Because it’s not a commodity that can be reliably sold in large quantities, said Kunselman, the city would essentially be providing the merchant with tax-free land to store compostable material, until it could eventually be moved on the market. He said he did not imagine that they would be able to sell the material in 50-pound bags at Lowes.

Kunselman’s opposition is also based on the idea that there’s a built-in assumption that the merchant operation will accept yard waste from other surrounding communities – even while the city is trying to encourage its own residents to “keep it home” and reduce the amount of yard waste that is hauled from one place to another. [The elimination of the loose leaf collection program is one example.] Conversion to merchant operations, he said, was a way of subsidizing yard waste collection for surrounding suburban communities. Promoting the idea of trucking and hauling yard waste, Kunselman said, is “going in the wrong direction.”

Kunselman also noted that the composting facility was located in the southeast part of the city – his ward – and he did not want to see additional truck traffic on the roads in that part of town.

Compost: Public Commentary

Scheduled to address the council during public commentary was Phyllis Ponvert, who also attended the Sunday night city council caucus the previous evening to express her objections to the proposed contract with WeCare. Ponvert chose not to address the council; however, the sentiments she conveyed in an email to The Chronicle touched on many of the issues expressed by councilmembers and other members of the public. She questioned whether adequate effort had been put into making the city’s compost operation competitive with privately produced compost products, and expressed concern about any possibility that WeCare might contract with other communities to introduce biosolids from sanitary sewer systems into the city of Ann Arbor’s composting facility’s operations. She called for the creation of a taskforce:

City Council must put a hold on the decision to outsource the facility. Hold public hearings and create a task force to come up with a plan to keep the compost facility. Responsible oversight with on site management and creative marketing will enable the compost facility to pay for itself.

Appearing before the council was Jeannine Palms, who described the quality of the city’s compost end product as “black gold.” She asked the council to postpone action on the proposal so that the city staff could review the details of the proposal at a citizen meeting. She appealed to the notions of investment in social capital, shared prosperity and ecological equity.

Again delivering her public commentary in the form of a song – this one to the tune of “You Better Watch Out” – was Libby Hunter. The lyrics included a characterization of the contract with WeCare as a “sweetheart deal.”

Following Hunter at the podium was Nicholas Nightwine, who is president of the AFSCME Local 369. In response to a quip from mayor John Hieftje, Nightwine indicated that he would not be providing music. Nightwine noted that he’d addressed the council on previous occasions on the same topic. He reiterated his point that some of the compost facilities financial losses are due to pricing the end product at below-market rates. He asked the council to consider working to fix some of the operating shortfalls, before outsourcing the compost facility’s operation to a company based in another state. [WeCare Organics is New York-based, whereas another bidder, Spurt Industries, is based in Michigan.] Nightwine rejected the characterization of the proposed arrangement with WeCare as a partnership, saying that it was a “privatization of services.” If it were a partnership, he said, then WeCare would also share in the financial losses – which are expected to continue for the city, but at a much reduced level.

Lou Glorie noted that the composting facility is not a “greenish frill” but rather a state-mandated core service, because the dumping of yard waste in landfills is prohibited by state law. The cost of maintenance for the facility, she said, would continue to be shouldered by the city, which would result in a situation where the profit is privatized, but the cost is socialized.

Compost: Council Deliberations

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) led off council deliberations by making a gambit for a postponement in order to facilitate additional public engagement, saying it was no different than the current process underway to determine if the city wanted to contract out for operation of Huron Hills golf course. Sandi Smith (Ward 1) said she also had concerns but felt they could get answers in two weeks, which was shorter than the timeline that Kunselman seemed to have in mind.

Hieftje said he wouldn’t support a postponement at that point in the meeting, given that there was a lot of false information that had been put out. He felt the council meeting was an educational opportunity. If there were questions at the end of the discussion, he said, he might be willing to entertain a postponement.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) said she was also hoping for some kind of discussion that evening, which would be precluded by a successful vote to postpone, so she asked Kunselman to withdraw the motion to postpone, which he did.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) echoed concerns expressed during public commentary that the city had not made an adequate effort to make the compost facility profitable. He noted that several acres had been purchased to create the facility and the challenge is how to make the facility a benefit to our community. He expressed concern that the state law could change and allow for inclusion of biosolids. He called for the inclusion of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment as a part of the effort.

Smith ticked through a number of questions for the city’s solid waste coordinator, Tom McMurtrie. She wanted some clarification about the setting of prices – in the context of the possibility that prices for the end product were set too low by the city for the compost facility to have been profitable. McMurtrie allowed that pricing was not in the core competency of the city.

McMurtrie outlined how circumstance this past spring had led to the setting of very low prices in order to try to liquidate some of the inventory of compost that had accumulated on the compost facility site –  state law limits the amount of compost that can be stored on property, and it also has a shelf life. Those same circumstances led to a lack of availability of compost for local residents, who were accustomed to being able to purchase a finished compost product from the city.

An explanation from McMurtrie for the shortage of compost available to city residents was conveyed to The Chronicle last spring. McMurtrie’s explanation described how it was not a policy decision, but rather an operational error that resulted in the shortage:

… For these reasons, and the fact that finished compost loses its nutrient value over time, we were interested in selling this substantial backlog of materials.

In an effort to gauge the wholesale market for this material, the city issued an invitation to bid in 2009 requesting pricing for 1,000 cubic yards or more. This bid was sent to approximately 100 landscape suppliers in the area. Two bids were received: One at 50 cents per cubic yard, and the other at $2.75 per cubic yard, for 1,000 cubic yards. The City decided to reject the 50 cents per cubic yard bid, and price the bulk purchases at $2.75 per cubic yard.

Normally, a small amount of compost would be retained for small quantity sales such as to homeowners. Due to operational error, that small set aside was not retained. Changes in operations are being reviewed to prevent that from happening again.

Later in deliberations, Briere established that the city did not track statistically how much compost local residents used. She pressed McMurtie to account for the city’s estimate that the 1,000 cubic yards that would be set aside for sale to residents under the WeCare contract would be sufficient. McMurtrie said the figure was based on input from staff at the compost facility and at the scale house.

Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, responded to a query from Smith about the business case for adopting the contract with WeCare now, as opposed to waiting a year. McCormick said that everything is about the cost of providing the service – $600,000 for the city to run the operation versus $200,000 to pay WeCare to do it. “I don’t know how to put it more simply,” she concluded. She said it was a possibility for the city to try to bring in increased tonnages of yard waste from surrounding communities and to charge those communities tip fees – essentially playing the same role that WeCare would play under the proposed contract.

However, McCormick pointed out that the city staff had asked the council to do that when Waste Management had expressed interest in establishing a long-term contract with the city to roughly double the tonnages it brought to the city’s compost facility. But the city council had turned down the request. By way of specific background, the vote came on April 3, 2007. From the resolution:

Whereas, Waste Management of Michigan, Inc. is interested in initially delivering approximately 10,000 tons/year and ultimately 20,000 tons/year of compost from its Central Wayne Disposal Authority communities, including Wayne, Westland, Inkster, Garden City and Dearborn Heights to the Ann Arbor Compost Center;

Whereas, The City expects to generate approximately $335,000.00 in tipping fee revenue during the first full year of the ten year agreement with Waste Management for the processing and buy-back of finished compost;

Whereas, It is forecast that a net return to fund balance of $1,500,000.00 will be generated by the City during the life of this agreement;

RESOLVED, That City Council approves a ten-year agreement with Waste Management of Michigan, Inc. commencing May 1, 2007 and continuing until June 30, 2017 subject to the terms of the contract for the delivery and processing of yard waste at the Ann Arbor Compost Center;

That 2007 vote was 5-4. Voting yes were [councilmembers currently serving on the council are in italics]: Joan Lowenstein, Leigh Greden, Margie Teall, Chris Easthope, and John Hieftje. Voting no were:  Ron Suarez, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, Wendy Woods. Stephen Rapundalo and Bob Johnson were absent.

At Monday’s meeting, McCormick said that without the guaranteed throughput of long-term contracts, it was difficult to market the finished product. McMurtrie indicated that when the city subsequently raised its tipping fees, Waste Management had elected to stop bringing any material to the city’s facility.

Kunselman quizzed McMurtie on the terms of the WeCare contract: Could WeCare charge other communities less per ton as a tipping fee than it charges the city of Ann Arbor? Matt Kulhanek, fleet and facility manager with the city, confirmed this is the case. Kunselman said he objected to that on basic principle. Hieftje indicated that he did not see how the city would be damaged by that – Kulhanek concurred.

With respect to the pricing of Ann Arbor’s tipping fee versus what WeCare might charge other communities, Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) wondered if some kind of “most favored nation” status for the city could be explored with WeCare. McMurtrie said that the contract with WeCare is modeled on the one that the city has with FCR to operate the city’s materials recovery center.

Mike Nicholson, senior vice president with WeCare Organics, put the tipping fee charges in the context of the total cost to another community to tip yard waste at the Ann Arbor facility. Compared to the $19/ton that Ann Arbor would be charged under the contract, Nicholson suggested by way of a purely hypothetical example that the city of Detroit could be charged $17/ton, but that their cost for transfer from Detroit to Ann Arbor might well work out to $10/ton, so that their total cost would come to $27/ton – more than what it cost Ann Arbor, which has no transfer costs after collection of the material.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) drew out the fact that the length of a contract WeCare might be able to achieve could also affect the tipping fee – WeCare might offer a lower tipping fee in order to secure a longer-term deal.

Smith asked Kulhanek to explain how the New York-based WeCare was selected over a Michigan company, Spurt Industries, which had submitted a proposal that appeared competitive on cost. Kulhanek clarified that the bidders where evaluated on their technical competency separately from the financial proposal. WeCare not only had more experience, Kulhanek said, but also specific experience working with municipalities. Spurt’s tipping fees, he said, were lower and went up each year of the contract, whereas WeCare’s went down. He also said that Spurt’s estimated additional tonnages they could achieve contracts for – 30-40 tons– may not be realistic.

Smith also established with city staff and with Nicholson that the combination of state law and the contract language with WeCare meant that there is no possibility biosolids would be introduced at the city compost facility.

Hohnke elicited an assurance from McMurtrie that the quality of the end product would continue to be high – it would be tested three times a year. Councilmembers engaged in some discussion of the possibility that some amount  of compost might be made available to Ann Arbor residents at no cost to them for the compost – it would cost something for the city to make that part of the contract.

Kunselman allowed that the deliberations had dispelled much of the misinformation, but noting the late hour – the meeting did not conclude until after 1 a.m. – said that many residents don’t stay up past midnight or get the news. So he made another bid for postponement. Hieftje said he didn’t see a reason to postpone, but also did not see a downside. Smith asked McCormick if a two-week delay would have a negative impact on the city and WeCare’s ability to implement the transition before the spring. After consulting briefly with Nicholson, McCormick indicated that “a two week delay may not kill us,” but did not convey any enthusiasm for delaying.

Outcome on postponement: The motion to postpone failed, with only Briere, Kunselman, Anglin and Smith voting for it.

Outcome on the resolution: The council approved the five-year contract with WeCare, with Kunselman and Anglin dissenting.

Medical Marijuana Licensing

Before the council was a draft of a licensing scheme for medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation facilities and home occupations that the city attorney’s office had put together. Key elements of the licensing to be considered included: no more than 15 licenses will made available citywide for cultivation facilities and dispensaries; preference for applications will be given to facilities operating before Aug. 5, 2010, when the city council passed a moratorium on use of facilities for dispensing and cultivation; provision of names and addresses of various individuals associated with a facility; installation of security measures; posting of signage advising that use of marijuana is against federal law; consent to inspections of unspecified frequency. [.pdf of original draft licensing ordinance]

The specific direction to undertake the drafting of the licensing scheme came at the council’s Oct. 18 meeting from Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), who serves as the city council’s representative on the planning commission. By council rule, the introduction of ordinances like medical marijuana licensing is stipulated to come from councilmembers, but ordinances can be referred by councilmembers to other entities within the city, like the city attorney’s office:

RULE 13 – Ordinances, How Introduced

Proposed ordinances shall be introduced by one or more individual members of Council. Ordinances may be referred to any or all of the following: the City Attorney, the City Administrator, appropriate agencies, and Council committees, for study and recommendation. Ordinances shall be reported back to the working committee of the Council.

As a member of the planning commission, Derezinski had voted to recommend a zoning ordinance, as well as an unspecified licensing scheme. The zoning ordinance, which came before the city council at its Oct. 18 meeting and was approved then at its first reading, also enjoyed unanimous support on the planning commission. In broad strokes, under the proposed zoning ordinance, medical marijuana dispensaries can only be located in zoning districts classified as D (Downtown), C (Business), or M (Industrial), or in PUD (planned unit development) districts where retail is permitted in the supplemental regulations. Also, medical marijuana cultivation facilities would only be located in C (Business), M (Industrial), RE (Research), or ORL (Office/Research/Limited Industrial) districts.

However, the licensing proposal did not enjoy unanimous support on the planning commission. From The Chronicle’s account of the Oct. 5 planning commission meeting:

There were no additional details in the planning staff report about a possible license. Although it had been mentioned at previous meetings that the city attorney’s office was developing a proposal about licensing medical marijuana businesses, planning commissioners had not previously discussed the topic in depth.

Deliberations were brief. Jean Carlberg asked whether a license would only apply to dispensaries, or if it would be required of cultivation facilities and “home occupation” businesses as well. Kristen Larcom of the city attorney’s office said she didn’t know, because they hadn’t yet drafted a proposal for the license. Kirk Westphal asked if the license might include a cap on the number of dispensaries in the city, or require that there be building security. Larcom said that it might.

Outcome: In a 7-1 vote, the planning commission approved a motion to recommend that city council institute a medical marijuana business license. Eric Mahler dissented, and Wendy Woods was absent from the meeting.

Mahler did not comment during the public meeting on this issue. When asked by The Chronicle following the meeting about his reason for voting against it, Mahler indicated that they didn’t know what the license would entail at this point, and it was difficult to support something without that information.

The planning commission had undertaken their study and recommendation of a zoning ordinance at the direction of the city council as part of the moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities, which it passed on Aug. 5, 2010. However, the resolution establishing the moratorium did not reference a licensing scheme.

Medical Marijuana: Public Comment

Chuck Ream appeared before the council to criticize the draft licensing proposal that the city attorney’s office had produced. He began by complimenting the city’s planning commission for the tremendous work they’d done on the zoning ordinance, but he did not lavish the same praise on the city attorney’s office for its work on the licensing scheme. The inspection of dispensaries as home occupations, he said, is illegal under the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act. The current draft of the licensing scheme inappropriately mixes dispensaries with cultivation facilities, he said.

Ream said that the people of Ann Arbor did want the council and the city attorney’s office to do things that are illegal, cautioning against any attempt by the Michigan Association of Municipal Attorneys to take over the state act. He noted that ACLU lawsuits have begun, and cautioned against Ann Arbor setting a bad example for other communities in the state.

Medical Marijuana: Council Deliberations

City attorney Stephen Postema began by giving his perspective on the issue, which appears heavily influenced by the general prohibition in federal law against use of marijuana. “Federal law does not allow any of this,” he stated. The signage required of licensees under the licensing scheme would read:


Postema cited the unclarity of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Act, which was enacted by statewide voter referendum in 2008. He contended that there is a question about whether the absence of reference in the state law to dispensaries indicates that such facilities are allowed or rather that they are prohibited.

Postema indicated that the proposed licensing scheme combined businesses and home occupations into a single ordinance. It was this point on which Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) focused in opening the council questioning of Postema: Why were both businesses and home occupations subject to licensing? In answering Hohnke, Postema indicated dispensaries were felt to need regulation, based on the negative experience of other communities in California and Colorado. An approach where there was no regulation, Postema said, was acknowledged as a “clear error.” Postema then said that Colorado now had a much higher level of regulation than what he was proposing. He alluded to various safety concerns, and contended that federal authorities have not taken a hands-off policy. Postema did not mention home occupations in his response.

Hohnke followed up by asking specifically why home occupations were included. Postema suggested that a licensing mechanism for home occupations would help prevent LAWNET (the Livingston and Washtenaw Narcotics Enforcement Team) and the Ann Arbor police department from raiding a suspected illegal operation, only to find out after the fact that it was a licensed operation. Hohnke concluded that this was potentially a benefit to the licensee.

Hohnke pressed Postema on the issue that Ream had raised during public commentary, namely the apparent conflict between Postema’s proposed regulations and the state law provision that those who apply for registry cards not be subject to inspection. From the state law:

Possession of, or application for, a registry identification card shall not constitute probable cause or reasonable suspicion, nor shall it be used to support the search of the person or property of the person possessing or applying for the registry identification card, or otherwise subject the person or property of the person to inspection by any local, county or state governmental agency.

Postema said that the state law does not prohibit all inspection, but does afford a broad provision against prosecution for personal or caregiver use. Postema alluded to the broad powers that municipalities have to ensure safety. He indicated that he thinks the licensing requirements are reasonable, but that they may have to be tested in court.

Picking up on the idea that it would be useful to know “who not to go after,” Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) floated the idea of getting addresses from the state registry, but Postema seemed to indicate that this would not be feasible. Taylor wondered if people who grow orchids indoors are subject to the same kind of ventilation requirements that would be imposed on licensees.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) suggested that a portion of the licensing fee be allocated to an educational effort. In response to a question from Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) Postema suggested that the licensee fee might be a few hundred dollars. The fee has not yet been specified, but will eventually be set by the council, according to the draft ordinance.

Kunselman wanted to know what the rationale was for the limit of 15 licenses. Postema allowed that it was a good question. He said that some kind of cap was appropriate, due to the ambiguity of the state law and safety concerns. He deferred to Wendy Rampson, head of planning for the city, for the rationale for the number. She said there were bit more than 43,000 registered patients in the state of Michigan so far, but she allowed the number would go up. That’s less that 1% of the population of Michigan.

If 5% of Ann Arbor residents were registered patients, she said, that would work out to 5,700 patients. For dispensaries already operating, she said, the number of patients they serve ranges between 300 and 1,000. Assuming that a typical dispensary might serve 500 patients, 12 dispensaries could serve the needs of the estimated 5,700 patients. She concluded that 15 would be a good starting point, and after a year, the city would have a clearer understanding of what an appropriate number would be.

Kunselman asked if limiting the number of licenses could have the consequence of driving the creation of larger dispensaries. Postema allowed that it could.

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) observed that the ordinance was before the council at its first reading and that the council should have more answers to their questions than they currently did. She suggested that they could either work on it more between the first and second reading of the ordinance, or they could postpone its consideration. She asked Postema what he thought the council should do. Postema suggested a postponement.

Outcome: The council unanimously voted to postpone the medical marijuana licensing scheme until its Jan. 3, 2011 meeting. The new zoning rules regulating where medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities can be located, which were scheduled to be heard at second reading on Dec. 20, were rescheduled for Jan. 18.

Michigan Vehicle Code Adoption

Before the council for its first reading was a measure that proposed to adopt the complete Michigan Vehicle Code (MVC) as a part of the city code – Chapter 126 Traffic. In early 2008, the council had adopted the MVC, but excluded portions of the MVC addressing speed limits. [.pdf of corresponding Michigan Vehicle Code]

Part of the background to the proposal is that the city of Ann Arbor lost an August 2008 court case in which two speeding tickets issued in late 2007 were thrown out, because the city of Ann Arbor’s posted speed limits did not conform to state law with respect to the number of access points in a half-mile stretch of road, or a guideline that stipulates posted limits not be lower than the travel speed of the 85th percentile of traffic. From an Aug. 23, 2008 Ann Arbor News article:

An Ann Arbor judge’s decision to throw out two speeding tickets last January – along with the way the city sets speed limits  – was upheld on appeal in Washtenaw County Circuit Court on Friday.

Two Ann Arbor residents who were ticketed for speeding last year challenged the legality of the posted speed limits. They based their argument on a 2006 state Motor Vehicle Code that requires the use of the number of access points – driveways and intersections along a half-mile stretch of road – to set speed limits. The fewer access points, the higher the speed that must be set under the law.

One of the ticketed drivers, James Walker, is a recognized expert on speed limits. He’s testified before state lawmakers on setting 85th percentile speed limits.

National studies indicate that setting limits at or below the speed that 85 percent of drivers travel reduces friction between drivers and boosts safety.

Walker said Ann Arbor’s posted limits typically fall in the 10th to 30th percentile of the speeds drivers actually travel.

Walker’s attorney, John Shea, argued that the city cannot legally set a limit other that what’s allowed under the access-point law unless it adopts the 2006 Uniform Traffic Code, which allows cities to use the 85th percentile formula.


Sabra Briere (Ward 1), Tony Derezinski (Ward 2), and Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2).

On Monday, Tony Derezinski (Ward 2) introduced the proposal to adopt the MVC by noting there’d been some sentiment expressed in the community that some of the local speed limits appear to be set too low, and part of the impetus to change the city’s code to bring it into conformity with the MVC was based on the implicit threat of a class-action lawsuit.

In the back-and-forth among city attorney Stephen Postema, mayor John Hieftje and Sabra Briere (Ward 1), it emerged that Postema felt that adoption of the complete MVC would allow the city to contemplate additional speed studies as part of the method it uses to set speed limits.

Outcome: The council voted unanimously to adopt the MVC as a part of its traffic code for the ordinance change on first reading. To enact the change will require a final approval at a second reading after a public hearing.

Communications and Comment

Sometimes city council meetings include presentations at the start of the meeting that fall under the “introductions” section of  the agenda. There are also multiple slots on every agenda for city councilmembers and the city administrator to give updates or make announcements about important issues that are coming before the city council. And every meeting typically includes public commentary on subjects not necessarily on the agenda.

Comm/Comm: Christmas Trees

Sabra Briere (Ward 1) asked the question: What are people supposed to do with their Christmas trees after Christmas? The question arose because the city has announced it will not be picking them up immediately after the holidays. Sue McCormick, the city’s public services area administrator, sketched out three options: (1) take trees to the drop-off station, at 2950 E. Ellsworth, (2) leave them in the backyard for the birds, or (3) cut them up and place them in a compost cart – they’ll be picked up when yard waste collection resumes in April.

Comm/Comm: Library Lot

Alan Haber addressed the council on the topic of the future use of the city-owned Library Lot, on the top of the underground parking garage currently under construction on Fifth Avenue. He criticized what he characterized as an inclination to transform public property into something private. He suggested that The Roxbury Group’s report – evaluating the two finalist proposals that had come in response to the city’s RFP (request for proposals) for the lot’s future – was a matter of hiring a consultant to tell the city to do what the city already wanted to do. He contended that the Library Lot is the only suitable spot for a public gathering place in the city, that could serve as the center’s city. [In response to the city's RFP, Haber had helped to put forward a proposal for a community commons, which was ultimately rejected by the review committee. Coverage of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority board's Dec. 1 meeting includes that body's reaction to The Roxbury Group's report.]

Haber’s wife, Odile Hugont-Haber, also addressed the council on the topic of the future use of the Library Lot. She said she wants to see a green area there. She described how there is no place for citizens of Ann Arbor to interact other than perhaps the “gourmet ghetto” of the Main Street area. Creating a community commons at the Library Lot site, she said, was not a matter of money, but a matter of will. She called for the inclusion of children’s playground equipment at the site.

In his time for communications, Stephen Rapundalo (Ward 2), who chairs the committee that is reviewing responses to the Library Lot proposals, indicated that no decisions have yet been made. [The Roxbury Group's report indicated a preference for the proposal from Valiant for a hotel/conference center, over Acquest's proposal for a hotel.] Rapundalo stated that it had not been the task of the consultant to do a feasibility study, but rather to determine whether the proposers had the wherewithal to bring their proposals to completion.

Comm/Comm: Affordable Housing

Lily Au appeared before the council to criticize an Avalon Housing plan to demolish apartments at 1500 Pauline Blvd. and built new units. [Chronicle coverage of the Avalon proposal: "Low Income Housing Project Planned"] She told the council she was wearing black to mourn the death of a homeless person who had died behind the Kroger at Westgate.

Comm/Comm: Progressive Agenda

Thomas Partridge called upon the city council to renew a spirit of goodwill, and called upon the new governor’s state administration to enact measures to support affordable housing, transportation, health care and education.

Comm/Comm: Liquor License for Bar Louie

Tim Hull addressed the council on the topic of an agenda item involving a liquor license transfer from one corporate entity to another related one – from Bar Louie Ann Arbor, Inc. to BL Restaurant Operations, LLC.  d/b/a Bar Louie. Hull told the council that he’d tried to get service from Bar Louie, using his state ID for proof of age, but had been denied service because he could not produce a driver’s license. Hull told the council he does not own a car and does not have a license. He encouraged the council to use the occasion of a liquor license transfer as an opportunity to raise those types of issues with licensees. The council later approved the request for transfer without comment.

Comm/Comm: Budget, Economics

Kirk Profit – director of Governmental Consultant Services Inc., which the city retains as its paid lobbyist in Lansing – gave the council a presentation on the condition of the state’s budget, in the context of a transition to a new governor and new leadership in the legislature.

Councilmembers and city administrator Roger Fraser reported out in various ways from the  council’s 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 4 budget retreat. One key theme of the retreat, which was organized around a list of city services, was communication. The topic came up in the context of communication between the administration and the public, between the public and the city council, between the city’s labor unions and the administration, and between individual councilmembers.

The Chronicle will offer coverage of the Dec. 4 retreat and discussion of it from Monday’s council meeting separate from this meeting report.

Comm/Comm: Dundee’s Appreciation

Representatives from Dundee Village and Dundee Township appeared before the council to express their thanks for assistance the city had provided to them in connection with the June 6, 2010 tornado disaster that had struck their community.

Comm/Comm: Human Rights Award

Leslie Stambaugh appeared before the council on behalf of the city’s human rights commission to present the city with a plaque from the Michigan Alliance Against Hate Crimes, recognizing the Ann Arbor community response group.

Comm/Comm: Ann Arbor Skatepark

Trevor Staples and Scott Rosencrans gave a presentation to the council on behalf of the Friends of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, tracing the history of the group from a loosely organized collection of individuals to a formally established nonprofit corporation. A highlight of the presentation was the group’s participation in a $250,000 challenge sponsored by Pepsi. In the Pepsi Refresh challenge project, proposals compete for votes each month – one vote per project is allowed each day. The skatepark is competing for the month of December. To vote for the Ann Arbor Skatepark proposal, Chronicle readers can visit the website: Pepsi Refresh Project.

Comm/Comm: Rugby NAP Volunteers

At one of the council’s two council meetings per month, a proclamation is made to honor specific volunteers in the city’s parks program. This month, recognition was given to the rugby community, which includes men’s and women’s teams at the University of Michigan as well as city-based teams. The park they’ve adopted is the one where they practice and play, Riverside Park. [Chronicle Rugby coverage: "Football Saturday, Not Just at the Big House"]

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Margie Teall, Sabra Briere, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Next council meeting: Monday, Dec. 20, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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Council Banks on Single-Stream Recycling Fri, 19 Mar 2010 23:10:52 +0000 Dave Askins Ann Arbor City Council meeting (March 15, 2010) Part 2: Part 1 of the meeting report handles the range of various topics at the meeting that did not fall into the general category of recycling. Part 2 focuses specifically on the two recycling-related resolutions approved by the council.

Jim Frey and Tom McMurtrie

Tom McMurtrie, left, is the city's solid waste coordinator. Jim Frey, right, is CEO of Resource Recycling Systems, a consultant for the city on recycling.

The two separate resolutions correspond to the two facets of the new recycling system for Ann Arbor, which will be deployed in July 2010.

One resolution revised the contract with Recycle Ann Arbor (RAA) for curbside recycling pickup to reflect the single-stream character of the system. Residents will no longer place paper and containers in separate 11-gallon stackable totes to be hand-emptied by RAA drivers.  Instead, residents will put all their recyclable materials into a single rollable cart with a lid. Drivers will operate a robot arm from inside the truck to lift and tip the single cart’s recyclable contents into the truck.

The other resolution approved by the council authorized a contract with RecycleBank to implement an incentive program for residents, based on their participation in the recycling program and the average amount of materials recycled on their route.

Both the conversion to the new system and its associated incentive program came under criticism  during public commentary. During council deliberations it was the incentive program that was given the most scrutiny by councilmembers – with Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) voting against it. The contract with RAA was given unanimous support from the nine councilmembers who were present.

The arrangements with RAA for collection and with RecycleBank for the incentive program are separate contracts with separate entities – the single-stream system could be implemented without the incentive system. But it became apparent during council deliberations that the idea that the city council might opt for a single-stream system without the incentive program was not something city staff had planned for: The single-stream carts are already molded with labels “Earn rewards for recycling.” [Clarification: The authorization for the in-molded cart labels had not been made before the council approved the incentive contract.]

Background on City Council History with Single-Stream

Monday was not the first time the city council had contemplated the single-stream issue. The council heard a presentation at its Oct. 12, 2009 work session on the approach, including the incentive program for residents to set out their new single-stream carts for collection.

There was some initial confusion in the community about how the carts equipped with RFI (radio-frequency identification) tags would factor into the incentive program. Trucks will not weigh each individual cart as its contents are collected. The RFI scan simply measures participation of a household on any given day, and that participation is then assigned the average weight of all participating carts when the truck is weighed at the materials recovery facility (MRF).

At its Nov. 5, 2009 meeting, the council authorized upgrades necessary for the materials recovery facility (MRF) – some additional processing will be required to separate the materials, given that items will arrive mixed together. And at its Dec. 21, 2009 meeting, the council authorized the purchase of four new trucks, plus 33,000 carts equipped with RFI  chips.

The authorized total of capital investments – around $6 million – was made with reserves from the solid waste fund, which receives revenues from a dedicated millage. The increased volume of recycling expected from the single-stream system is expected to benefit the city’s balance sheet in two ways.

First, every ton that can be recycled instead of landfilled will save roughly $25 in tipping fees at Woodland Meadows in Wayne, Mich., where the city buries its trash. Second, the more recycled material that the city can collect, the more material it can sell on the recycled materials market. The estimated payback period for the investment is contingent on how the market for recycled materials plays out. The city is projecting that if the market stays in the mid-range for performance, the payback period for the investment will be about six years.

Who’s Who in Ann Arbor Recycling

At the podium at different times during the city council meeting were a range of people representing various organizations. Tom McMurtrie is the city’s solid waste coordinator. He was joined much of the time at the podium by Jim Frey, CEO of Resource Recycling Systems, a consulting firm.

John Getzloff is the representative of RecycleBank, which will have the contract to administer the incentive program. RecycleBank’s parent company is called RecycleRewards, and reference by speakers at the meeting varied between these two entities.

Melinda Uerling is the executive director of Recycle Ann Arbor – its current contract for dual-stream collection was amended Monday night to accommodate single-stream recycling collection. Recycle Ann Arbor is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor nonprofit.

Single-Stream Public Commentary

Kathy Boris spoke against the adoption of a single-stream curbside recycling system. She said that the true business of the city government is to provide services, which included collection of recycled materials, and that the current system is providing good service. She contended that the current two-stream system is working, and that she was not aware that it was deficient. The cost savings associated with a single-stream system, she said, were offset by the need to purchase new cards, trucks, and add staff at the materials recovery facility. The current economic down time, she said, was the wrong time to undertake this system.

She cautioned the council that the point of recycling is not to achieve great volume, it’s to be able to sell what you have collected so it can be manufactured into products that people will buy. She warned that even with additional processing of the material that is mixed through the single-stream approach, you will still get contamination. She questioned whether it was in the best interest of the city to sacrifice quality in the interest of increased volume – it jeopardized the city’s ability to close the recycling loop by selling the material.

Rita Mitchell began her remarks on the single-stream recycling system by saying that she had found some money for the budget – she asked the council to vote no on the two resolutions before them concerning single-stream recycling [One resolution authorized a contract with Recycle Ann Arbor to perform the curbside collection, while the other authorized a contract with RecycleBank, the vendor that will be implementing the incentive program.]

Mitchell told the council that they would save up to $6 million by voting no. She suggested using the funds instead for police services and park maintenance. Mitchell acknowledged that adding additional types of plastics to the set of materials that are accepted is a good idea, but not one that is worth the $6 million investment. She also asked what would happen to the batteries and the oil, which are currently picked up curbside. With the $3-per-car entry fee now imposed at the city’s drop-off station, she warned that batteries and oil would wind up going to the landfill.

Mitchell cautioned that the incentives offered through RecycleBank could lead to increased consumption of unnecessary things, which was counter to the goals of recycling. She also objected to the roughly $200,000 annual cost to administer the program. She characterized the incentive program as a marketing project for tracking consumer behavior. Comparing RecycleBank’s slogan of “recycle, redeem, reward” to the one that’s more familiar to recyclers, she asked, “What happened to ‘reduce, reuse, recycle?’” She cautioned the council that they needed to look at the entire waste stream picture and that the goal needed to be a reduction both in solid waste and recycling.

Responding to the idea that the time has come for single-stream recycling, Glenn Thompson allowed that it had come … and gone. After careful study, he said, Berkeley, Calif. decided to retain its two-stream system. The University of Colorado had also recently concluded that the negatives associated with a single-stream system outweigh the benefits and had made a decision to stick with the two-stream system.

Those decisions, he said, were made this year, based on the quality of the resulting materials. Thompson reminded councilmembers that Ann Arbor has a 90% participation rate in curbside recycling for its two-stream system and has a 50% diversion rate. At the same time that the council was planning to spend $6 million on a speculative program, it was considering canceling loose-leaf collection, eliminating holiday tree collection, and had already imposed a $3 fee to enter the drop-off station. Thompson, like Mitchell, characterized the RecycleBank incentive program as a “marketing campaign.” Thompson called on the council to make this the watershed issue, the one where the council says no to an unnecessary “pet project.” He asked the council not to spend $6 million to benefit consultants and contractors.

Lou Glorie

Lou Glorie during public commentary on single-stream recycling.

[Later, during council deliberations, Sandi Smith (Ward 1) would question the connection that was made by some speakers during public commentary between the elimination of the loose-leaf collection and holiday tree pickup on the one hand, and the implementation of single-stream recycling on the other.]

Lou Glorie made her remarks during public commentary reserved time in the form of a skit in which she played both roles. It was a household conversation about recycling after conversion to a single-stream system. She included a mixing bowl as a prop, into which she dumped various materials. She then mixed them together, symbolic of what would happen to materials in a single-stream system.

RecycleBank’s Incentive Contract

Councilmembers had several areas of concern – from the 10-year length of the contract, to the need to have an incentive program at all. From the staff memo providing the rationale for the incentive program:

Based on data collected from comparable communities around the country, it is estimated that the single-stream program without RecycleBank would increase recycling rates about 28%, from 357 pounds per household per year to 457 pounds. This increase will be due to both the convenience and higher capacity of the new single-stream cart, as well as the additional materials that will be collected in the program. For example, all plastic bottles and tubs (except #3 and styrofoam) will be accepted under the new program.

With the RecycleBank incentive program, it is estimated that those same recycling rates will increase from 357 pounds to 752 pounds, or over 200%. The attached chart compares that 752 pound figure with other similar communities that are currently enrolled in the RecycleBank program.

Even at 752 pounds per household per year– a 200% increase in volume compared to current levels – Ann Arbor would be a fairly middle-of-the-pack RecycleBank client.

RecycleBank Comparison

Here's how Ann Arbor's recycling performance is projected to stack up against other communities after implementation of the RecycleBank program. Ann Arbor's is the leftmost column. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

A chart supplied by RecycleBank shows five other cities that collect more than 800 pounds per household per year.

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) led off council deliberations with a question about the length of the contract for RecycleBank: Why was it a 10-year contract for something that’s a new program?

Tom McMurtrie, the city’s solid waste coordinator, explained that it was based on the significant investment in technology and capital equipment required to install the RFID recognition equipment. Higgins also pointed out that the contract was for $200,000 per year over the course of the 10-year contract. She asked, “Why do we feel like we need to have this?” She put her question in the context of the already high rates of participation and recycling by Ann Arbor residents.

McMurtrie allowed that Ann Arbor residents did in fact have a high rate of participation. But he pointed out that communities like Rochester Hills and Westland, which had implemented single-stream cycling together with the incentive program associated with RecycleBank, now surpassed Ann Arbor residents – measured in terms of pounds of recycled material per household.

Jim Frey said that the length of the contract was related partly to the interest in cultivating the long-term loyalty of merchants who participated in the incentive program through coupon offerings. The idea was to use the incentive rewards to lower the cost of living for residents. The idea was also to have a longer-term relationship between residents and merchants.

In terms of Ann Arbor residents’ recycling performance, said Frey, they are no longer in the top 25% – “really not that great, to be honest with you.” The idea was to bring the performance, measured in terms of pounds per household, back into the top 90th percentile. He concluded by saying that Ann Arbor did have good participation rates, but that the performance was not as good as communities that had implemented incentives with RecycleBank.

Higgins asked if those other communities that had implemented RecycleBank, like Rochester Hills and Westland, had also converted to single-stream recycling. Frey confirmed that those two communities had implemented single-stream along with RecycleBank.

Higgins wanted to know if Ann Arbor’s recycling performance could be expected to bump up some anyway, just due to the implementation of the single-stream system, independently of any incentive program. She wanted to know what Rochester Hills’ and Westland’s performance in its two-stream system looked like before implementing the single-stream system, plus the RecycleBank incentive system.

Rochester Hills’ numbers for the two-stream curbside system were around a 30% participation rate, with around 150-200 pounds per household, Frey said. Now their participation rate was around 80%, with around 650 pounds per household. Westland, which previously had no curbside recycling, is now showing recycling levels of 800 pounds per household – roughly double the amount recycled in Ann Arbor, he said.

Higgins responded to an example from Frey of a community going from 30% to 80% participation through RecycleBank by pointing out Ann Arbor’s 80-90% participation rate with the two-stream system. Tom McMurtrie countered that it’s not just about participation but rather the amount of materials. Higgins asked when the 80-90% participation rate had last been measured for Ann Arbor in a two-stream curbside recycling program. McMurtrie told her it had been several years ago.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) focused on the idea that there will be an increase in recycling performance simply due to the conversion to a single-stream system, but there will be an additional increase from the RecycleBank incentive rewards system. McMurtrie confirmed that the conversion to single-stream itself – which included more kinds of materials (plastics), and increased volume of the curbside container – would result in some gains. But the incentive program, said McMurtrie, which really “gives it that shot in the arm.”

Noting that Ann Arbor was not the first to lead the way by implementing an incentive program like RecycleBank, Hohnke asked what that boost actually looked like. John Getzloff of RecycleBank reviewed the Westland and Rochester Hills program and added the example of Cherry Hill, N.J., which had increased its recycling levels from 600 pounds per year to 900 pounds per year. Getzloff told the council that RecycleBank operated in 20 states across the country, including large cities like Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Chicago.

Frey suggested that in analyzing Ann Arbor’s situation, they estimated that 500 pounds of recycling per household could be attributed perhaps to just having a bigger container. There were many communities that had implemented single-stream recycling with carts only, and generally they achieved between 450 and 550 pounds of recycled materials per household. Hohnke then concluded from that discussion that the city could be confident there would be some additional boost from having the RecycleBank incentive program.

But he noted that the incentive program came with a cost – $200,000 per year. Against that cost had to be weighed the savings in tipping fees for the landfill. Asked Hohnke, “If you do the math, how do they compare?” Frey indicated that for every additional ton of material that was recycled, a savings of $25 would be realized. Through the sale of the material, there would be a benefit, as well. They projected that over the next five years, the incentive program would cover its costs.

In addition to that, Frey said, the value of the incentive rewards to each household would average around $250 worth of rewards a year. With 28,000 carts, that reflected a $7 million benefit to the community, he said. Hohnke concluded from this that implementing the incentive program over the course of five years would save the city money.

Higgins wanted to know what the ratio of renters to homeowners was in the communities that had been used for comparison, noting that there were 45% renters in Ann Arbor. Getzloff explained that the benefit of the rewards program came to the resident, not necessarily the property owner. If people moved within the city of Ann Arbor, they would take their accounts with them.

Higgins also came back to the fact that it was a very long contract. What if, two years into the contract, it is not working for the city, she wondered? McMurtrie replied that RecycleBank had been around since 2004 and therefore they had a history. Higgins came back with the point that it was not as long a history as the contract the council was being asked to sign. McMurtrie noted that the city had the ability by the terms of the contract not to fund the program.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) noted that on the chart that had been provided to councilmembers, curbside recycling levels increased dramatically but flattened out rather quickly over the five-year period that was estimated. Frey accounted for that by saying that there was a built-in conservatism in the estimates.

Smith asked about the possibility that utilization rates did not improve over time. Getzloff indicated  in that case, they would do additional outreach in the community. Frey pointed out that it could be a very targeted outreach because they would know exactly which households were not participating in the program. Smith elicited from Getzloff that the merchant partners for the incentive program would be a combination of national and local partners and that there would be a $540 cap on benefits to any one particular household. The cap is a way to prevent people from trying to cheat the system – by loading their carts with materials other than recyclables.

Mayor John Hieftje said he was intrigued by the incentive program and wondered if it would be possible for the community to use the coupons to support local nonprofits like Food Gatherers. Getzloff indicated that RecycleBank’s main focus was on their Green Schools program and other national charities. Support for local charities was not in the contract that the council was considering. Hieftje characterized the incentive program as a good investment.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) asked who collected the data on recycling tonnage. McMurtrie clarified that it’s collected by trucks and is then uploaded to RecycleBank’s system.

Kunselman reflected on the fact that the roughly $200,000 per year over the life of the 10-year contract represented $2 million. He established that the escape clause for not funding the program was slightly less than $200,000 a year – to cover the under-appreciated capital investment in the trucks. In light of that, Kunselman wondered why it was necessary to have a 10-year contract. Getzloff indicated that there were a variety of term lengths for RecycleBank contracts and that the best price came with the longest one – a 10-year contract.

Kunselman returned to the topic of Ann Arbor’s already high 80-90% participation rate. Based on the chart that had been handed out to councilmembers, Kunselman wanted to know how much of the doubling of recycled tonnage could be attributed just to the implementation of the single-stream system independently of the incentive program.

Frey went through a chart that showed how estimates of the current level of 5,084 tons – for single households in Ann Arbor – would rise to 10,708 tons in the second year of the program. Of those 5,624 extra tons, fully 4,201 were attributable to the incentive program.

Kunselman also questioned whether the city would in effect be paying twice for the educational efforts of both Recycle Ann Arbor and of RecycleBank. McMurtrie replied by saying that “We’re all in this together.” RecycleBank, McMurtrie indicated, is simply a new layer.

Kunselman then asked whether there were examples of RecycleBank in other college towns. Kunselman said that he was not sold on the idea that the city needed incentives as opposed to more education. Getzloff said that the incentive program educated people by keeping the idea of recycling foremost in their minds. Kunselman responded by saying that he had a difficult time believing that with a 80-90% participation rate by people who were conscientious about recycling, that a dramatic gain like Getzloff was describing could be possible.

Frey indicated that he’d been in the business of recycling almost 30 years and that communities spend millions of dollars in education, and that it’s different for each person and different for each household. What’s different about the incentive program, he said, is the common interest that it defines. He stressed that it works, and it’s amazingly effective.

Frey indicated that there were University of Michigan students who were really interested in doing a pre-test and post-test of the system. So Kunselman asked if it was possible to delay implementation of the incentive system for one or two years to see how well the conversion to single-stream worked with just the educational efforts of Recycle Ann Arbor.

McMurtrie responded by saying that the city council had already approved a purchase order for 33,000 carts and that the carts have in-molded labels saying that there would be rewards. Kunselman expressed his objection to the idea that they were putting advertising for RecycleBank on the carts. McMurtrie indicated that it was not advertising, but rather the phrase: “Earn rewards for recycling.”

Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) clarified that the escape clause in the contract was designed to cover an investment that had not yet depreciated. He wanted to know how much that investment was. It boiled down to $20,000 per truck, plus installation of equipment at the materials recovery facility (MRF) – a computer that would download data to Recycle Ann Arbor. The cost of recruiting incentive rewards merchant partners, sending a team to educate people and funding the Green Schools program is just the cost of doing business, confirmed Getzloff.

Taylor then segued into a discussion of what exactly RecycleBank’s business model is. He wondered how they could offer $7 million in benefits based on a $200,000 per year payment from the city. Getzloff clarified that the $7 million reflected a co-spend, and that it was essentially costless to them. The parts of the incentive program that cost RecycleBank money are gift cards, movie tickets and the Green Schools program, Getzloff said. Taylor concluded from Getzloff’s remarks that the primary benefit to RecycleBank is from having the contract with the city. The heart of RecycleBank’s business model was the customer satisfaction of the city of Ann Arbor, Taylor said: “We are your customer.”

Marcia Higgins (Ward 4) offered an amendment that stipulated that in three years after implementing the program, the city administrator would report back to the council on its effectiveness. Higgins’ amendment was unanimously approved.

Mayor John Hieftje asked McMurtrie if there was any reason to believe that the incentive program would cause people to buy more stuff. McMurtrie said he could not see that happening. He noted that there is a cap on how much you can earn from the rewards program. He stressed that the city’s first message was to reduce.

Outcome: The contract with RecycleBank for an incentive program for recycling in connection with the city’s new single-stream program was approved, with dissent from Stephen Kunselman.

Recycle Ann Arbor Contract

Also before the council was a contract revision with Recycle Ann Arbor, which currently collects recyclables curbside in a two-stream system. The key revisions to the contract are as follows:

The contract currently pays $19.30 to $102.58 per ton (depending on the annual tons), as well as $2.41 per service unit, with a total of 48,886 service units.

The proposed amendment modifies the provisions for compensation to RAA and extends the contract for an five additional years. The amendment will pay a revised rate of $18.74 to $30.00 per ton, as well as $3.25 per cart, which will replace the per service unit fee. The number of carts in the city will be lower than the number of service units because most multi-family service units will share carts. It is estimated that the new program will start with 32,800 recycle carts.

Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) led off the counci’s deliberations by reading a statement of support for the resolution from Margie Teall (Ward 4), who could not attend the council meeting.

Sandi Smith (Ward 1) raised the issue of the connection that some of the public speakers had drawn between the implementation of a single-stream system and the possible elimination of the city’s loose-leaf collection program and its holiday tree drop-off. She asked for confirmation of her understanding that the leaf collection program was simply inefficient.

Tom McMurtrie, the city’s solid waste coordinator, confirmed Smith’s understanding of the loose-leaf collection system. Sue McCormick, public services area administrator, said the loose-leaf collection system was something the city had talked about for a number of years – it generated a very large number of complaints, due to the fact that there were challenges inherent in timing the collection to coincide with the dropping of leaves from trees in any given season.

The unpredictable first snowfall was also a factor, said McCormick. Raking leaves into the street for pickup – a key feature of the loose-leaf collection program – in areas where there was on-street parking was particularly problematic, McCormick said. [At the council's budget retreat in December 2009, McCormick had said about the loose-leaf collection program: "We cannot do it well."]

A second reason for eliminating the loose-leaf collection program, said McCormick, was to contain costs – the city expected around a $450,000 reduction from the solid waste millage revenues in the coming year. It would be somewhat cheaper – by about $100,000 per year – to move to a containerized system for leaf pickup. Smith drew out the fact that the city would continue to pick up leaves, but simply require that they be placed in paper bags or in one of the city’s compost carts. McCormick said that some residents had found it useful to place leaves in the compost carts over several weeks, instead of the all-at-once approach inherent in the loose-leaf collection program.

The rationale for the single-stream system, said McCormick, was to provide a higher degree of service with a payback period of around six years for the capital investment. Each of the programs – loose-leaf collection and single-stream – stood on their own, she said.

Stephen Kunselman (Ward 3) said the initial approvals for the switch to single-stream recycling [authorization for the MRF upgrade, for example] had come in November 2009, before he served on the city council, so he wanted to get a clearer understanding of the general issue.

How do we have employees of a private vendor driving a city truck with a mechanical arm to pick up recycling, and also city workers driving city trucks with mechanical arms to pick up solid waste, Kunselman asked. He said he was a former driver for RAA and just wanted to get a clearer understanding. Kunselman also wanted to know: When did the contract actually end, given the five-year extension?

Tom McMurtrie, the city’s solid waste coordinator, said that until 1991, when he first began working for the city, the contract with RAA was sole-sourced. In 1991, the two-stream system was implemented – McMurtrie said he went out to bid for that system. In the time from 1991 to 2003, that contract was bid out three times. In 2003 they converted to the current performance-based contract, which ends in 2013. The extension for five years would put the end date in 2018.

The compensation for RAA drivers compared to city workers, McMurtrie said – once the better benefits for city workers were factored in – worked out roughly as follows: $19-20/hour for RAA drivers; $35/hour for city workers. McMurtrie said that the city was looking at the idea of privatizing the solid waste collection system as well. Melinda Uerling, executive director of RAA, confirmed McMurtrie’s information on lesser benefits associated with RRA driver compensation – there are health benefits, but no retirement system.

Melinda Uerling and Tom McMurtrie

Melinda Uerling, executive director of Recycle Ann Arbor, and Tom McMurtrie, the city's solid waste coordinator.

Hohnke addressed the concern about the possibility that RecycleBank incentives would cause greater consumption, so he drew out the fact that RAA’s message continued to be to reduce, reuse, and recycle, with recycling one of a three-part strategy. Uerling confirmed that this was part of RAA’s message. They focused their message on recycling, she said, whereas RecycleBank would be focused on their rewards system.

Hohnke said there were financial, environmental, and quality-of-life benefits to the single-stream system and he would be supporting the move.

Prompted by Hieftje to explain the change in compensation in the RAA contract, McMurtie said that there was previously a rapid step-up in the per-ton compensation after 10,000 tons, with the idea that RAA would need to add staffing after that tonnage level. With the new single -stream system, he said, they will have already achieved those efficiencies, and it would not be necessary to ratchet up the compensation rate at such a fast rate.

Hieftje also elicited from Frey the fact that the market for recyclables was starting to recover and that Ann Arbor was able to move all of its collected material on the market.

As an example, Frey said, cardboard was in the low 100s [dollars per ton] before the market crashed, and now it was in the 150s.

Hieftje also elicited from McMurtrie and Frey the fact that batteries would no longer be collected curbside under the single-stream system. This is a function of the fact that drivers will no longer be climbing outside of the trucks to pick up batteries and oil.

Hieftje said that one of the advantages of the carts for recycling, as opposed to the two-stream totes, would be an improvement in the “clean look” of the city. He said that in his neighborhood, residents had started setting out their two-stream totes for collection that evening, and there was already cardboard that was starting to blow around.

Mike Anglin (Ward 5) asked about the fact that around 35% of the materials that go through the MRF come from the city of Ann Arbor. The other 65% come from other communities. Frey indicated that in the future the city’s tons would amount to a greater percentage and that the merchant tons would need to find another facility. The MRF would continue to be a regional facility, Frey said, but the relative proportion of the city’s material would increase.

Kunselman asked if monthly data on the materials collected could be provided so that the city could “see how we’re doing.” McMurtrie indicated that more frequent reports on the data was an issue he’d been thinking about – currently the figures are reported annually as part of the city’s State of Our Environment Report.

At the conclusion of the deliberations, Kunselman and Hieftje engaged in a bit of recycling one-upmanship. Kunselman had previously cited his experience as an RAA driver. Hieftje cited his service on the RAA board. Hieftje then quoted an unnamed person who had helped to start RAA – to the effect that recycling needs to be as easy as putting out the trash. Kunselman noted that the unnamed person was his ecology student teacher at Pioneer High School – he’d been inspired by him at a very young age.

Outcome: The contract revision with Recycle Ann Arbor for curbside recycling was approved unanimously.

A Question To Be Recycled

Publication of this part of the meeting report was delayed while The Chronicle sought the answer to a question related to the incentive program – which is still not answered, but we plan to cycle back to it at a future date.

The question relates to how well Ann Arbor residents stack up against other communities that have a RecycleBank incentive program. While the 90% participation in Ann Arbor’s curbside program is high, Ann Arbor’s per-household figure of 357 pounds per year doesn’t stack up favorably with the more than 600 pounds that Rochester Hills residents are achieving.

What was not part of the council deliberations, or in the information that city staff provided to them, however, was the pounds-per-household data for material that goes into the landfill.

When comparing Rochester Hills to Ann Arbor, the 600 pounds versus 357 pounds is part of the story. The other part of the story is the X pounds per household that Rochester Hills throws into the landfill, versus the Y pounds per household that Ann Arbor throws in the landfill.

Our question, currently being handled by city staff, is this: What are X and Y?

To see that getting the answer to the question is not just a matter of diversion rates, consider two communities, City A and City B. City A recycles 500 pounds per household and throws 1,000 pounds into the landfill. City B recycles 750 pounds per household and throws out 1,250 pounds into the landfill. City B outperforms City A in terms of its pounds recycled per household (750 is more than 500) and also outperforms City A in term of diversion rate (37.5% is better than 33%).

Yet there is some sense in which City B is doing a “better job” with resource management – there’s only 1,500 pounds of material carted away from the curb in City A, versus 2,000 pounds in City B.

From Rochester Hills we obtained the roughly one year’s worth of data since April 2009, when the city implemented its RecycleBank program: 6,054 tons of recycling, 16,261 tons of landfilled trash, and 6,397 tons of compost. Those amounts are collected from 19,350 households.

In the most recent article for The Chronicle written by Matt Naud, the city’s environmental coordinator, on the city’s environmental indicators, the breakdown for Ann Arbor’s residential waste only was 28% recycled, 46% landfilled and 26% composted.

Based purely on that breakdown, it looks like Ann Arbor’s performance on diversion rates might be better than Rochester Hills, even though its pounds-per-household recycling numbers are not as good. What we’re still checking is whether the Rochester Hills data we have and the numbers from Naud’s article really reflect an “apples-to-apples” comparison. To the extent that Rochester Hills data might include commercial waste, along with the residential, its diversion rate would be skewed lower.

Present: Stephen Rapundalo, Mike Anglin, Sandi Smith, Tony Derezinski, Stephen Kunselman, Marcia Higgins, John Hieftje, Christopher Taylor, Carsten Hohnke.

Absent: Margie Teall, Sabra Briere.

Mayor John Hieftje announced that councilmember Sabra Briere (Ward 1) and Margie Teall (Ward 4) were absent due to the flu. Later Carsten Hohnke (Ward 5) had to leave the meeting somewhat early to tend to a sick family.

Next council meeting: April 5, 2010 at 7 p.m. in council chambers, 2nd floor of the Guy C. Larcom, Jr. Municipal Building, 100 N. Fifth Ave. [confirm date]

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Michigan Tailgate Tries for Zero Waste Sun, 27 Sep 2009 04:12:47 +0000 Dave Askins woman with brown T-shirt holding hands as if to catch something standing next to recycling station

This is not Martavious Odoms of the University of Michigan football team preparing to catch a winning touchdown pass from Tate Forcier. It's Alexi Ernstoff, who's preparing to "take the snap" from an UM alum who's got a plate piled with refuse headed her direction. (Photo by the writer.)

In Ann Arbor on Saturday, the visiting Hoosiers came up three points shy in a homecoming game against the University of Michigan football team. Final score: 36-33.

And at a pre-game tailgate hosted by the UM Alumni Association, a team of  Student Sustainability Initiative (SSI) volunteers came up at least three coffee creamer containers shy of their goal: a “zero waste” tailgate.

Those three coffee creamer containers came from Edward J. Vander Velde – from the 50th reunion class of 1959 – who kidded the volunteers who were staffing one of the waste stations inside Oosterbaan Fieldhouse, saying, “We’re still short of perfect!”

The coffee creamers weren’t the only items that still wound up in the trash instead of the compost bins, or the paper containers, or the bottle receptacles.

But according to SSI board member Greg Buzzell, who’s studying at UM’s Erb Institute, early post-tailgate estimates are that the zero-waste effort diverted about 500 pounds of material from the landfill to the compost pile, and that the tailgate generated “really very minimal” trash.


Left is Alex, who staffed one of the waste stations. Right is Edward J. Vander Velde, who attended the tailgate as a part of the 50th Reunion Class. He holds a bachelor's degree in history and political science, a master's in geography, and a doctorate in geography, all from UM. He currently resides in Grand Rapids. (Photo by the writer.)

What Goes Where?

From the interactions The Chronicle observed between SSI volunteers, who staffed the waste stations, and the attendees of the tailgate, alums were on board with the concept of segregating their “trash” into the right slots. They just needed a little coaching, and they were eager to get it right. As one alum approached, he asked, “Okay, what goes where?”

On a few occasions, the rush of people, their plates piled with refuse, overwhelmed the opportunity for an educational moment. SSI volunteers picked up the blitz by accepting a hand-off of the whole pile, and separating it themselves.

When there was an opportunity for a teaching moment – which seemed like almost always – one of the more frequent focuses was the plates and the tableware. Recycleable? Nope. Trash? Nope. Compostable. Yep. So plastic-looking plates, knives, forks and spoons went into the same bin as food scraps.

The compostable material is being accepted at a facility near Brighton called Tuthill Farms. That bill is being footed by the UM Alumni Association, according to Cat Niekro, who’s vice president for marketing and communications for the association. It will come to around $2,000 out of a total budget of $100,000 allocated for the homecoming event, she told The Chronicle. [The UM Almuni Association is a separate nonprofit entity from the university.]

Three people standing with Indiana University sweatshirts. Woman, woman, man.

Audra McKinzie, Amy Legg and Kyle Fellerhoff, all '04 graduates of Indiana University, Bloomington. McKinzie is currently a graduate student at UM. From the Small World file: Fellerhoff hails from Columbus, Indiana, the same hometown as Dave Askins, editor of The Chronicle. They have a high school English teacher in common: Shirley Lyster. (Photo by the writer.)

How Forks Are Compostable, and the Hoosier Connection

What makes forks compostable? Well, they’re made from corn. That’s another homecoming connection to Indiana, besides the fact that the Hoosiers were the scheduled opponent on the football field: Indiana ranks fourth – behind Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska – among states in corn production.

The Chronicle asked three Hoosiers, whose crimson colors were easy to spot in the throng at the UM homecoming tailgate, about the quality of the cutlery. We were curious to know if there were any performance sacrifices that had to be accepted to get the benefit of their compostability.

From Audra McKinzie, Amy Legg and  Kyle Fellerhoff, who are all ’04 graduates of IU Bloomington – the answer was that the corn-based cutlery was indistinguishable from regular plasticware. They’d enjoyed their tailgate food unaware there was anything special about the cutlery.

Among the food on offer that needed cutlery to consume was an egg dish called Scrambled “Hoosiers.”

On display at Oosterbaan Fieldhouse for alums to admire was the MRacing vehicle, which was fresh off a fifth-place finish in a field of 78 entries in Formula Student Germany (FSG) competition, which was held Aug. 5-9, 2009 in Germany. The tires sported the word “Hoosier” – they were sourced from Hoosier Racing Tire Corp. in Indiana.

For the football game, there was one potential conflict in loyalties among the Student Sustainability Initiative volunteers that proved unfounded. While Julia Koslow grew up in Indianapolis, she didn’t go to school at Indiana University. It was the previous week when her loyalty had been tested – she’s a Notre Dame grad.

Who Are the Students in SSI?

If The Chronicle couldn’t expose Koslow as a Hoosier fan, could we perhaps challenge her composting credentials? We asked her if she composted at home. Yes. In her apartment. How do you compost if you don’t have a backyard? You do it with worms. She explained that she’d inherited the composting bin, with its separate chamber for the worms, from a student who’d already  graduated. Finding a place to put the castings [worm crud] was a challenge, she reported, but they can be tossed pretty much anywhere outside.

Two people standing one person kneeling writing the word trash on a yellow box.

Standing are Mark Ellis and Julia Koslow. Kneeling, writing the word "Trash" on the yellow box, is Elizabeth Senecal. (Photo by the writer.)

Staffing the same station as Koslow was Elizabeth Senecal. Senecal served two years in the Peace Corps before embarking on her studies at UM. Part of her work in sustainable agriculture – living in a Senegalese village of 900 people with no electricity or running water – was to convert a “dead fencing” system to a live one. The fence in question runs about one kilometer around a garden plot tended by the village’s women. Its function is to keep the animals out of the garden.

Historically, women have gathered dead branches, corn stalks, and other materials to build the “dead fence” anew after rainstorms wash it away. The vertical elements of the live fence are made up of trees that are planted an appropriate distance apart. The spaces between the trees can be filled in with material taken from the trees themselves – which saves the effort of scavenging over vast distances.

Phillip and Alex, who staffed a waste station on the opposite side of Oosterbaan Fieldhouse from Elizabeth and Julia, are two guys with no particular background as artists, but who are undaunted by their adopted project of creating art out of some of the plastic cups they were accumulating.

The art project was more or less an “audible called at the line of scrimmage” when some orange juice cups they thought would be accepted nicely into the plastics recycling bin failed on grounds of their shape. They need to have a neck to be accepted – it’s not clear why.

Tom Brokaw

Tom Brokaw, when spotted in the wild at Oosterbaan Fieldhouse, was not immediately recognizable as Tom Brokaw. Once people began to ask, “Is that guy Tom Brokaw?” the resemblance was easier to spot. He was taping material for an upcoming MSNBC documentary on baby boomers.

Tom Brokaw interviewing someone

Tom Brokaw interviewing baby boomers for an upcoming MSNBC documentary about the impact of the poor economy on baby boomers. (Photo by the writer.)

Tom Brokaw interviewing someone

Tom Brokaw interviewing Jesse Rawls, Sr. a 1971 graduate of UM. Rawls' two sons graduated UM in '96 and '01. His daughter graduated in '95. (Photo by the writer.)

Tom Brokaw interviewing someone

Tom Brokaw was not saying, "You've got some scrambled eggs stuck on your upper lip ... no, a little to the left ... more ... okay, you got it." (Photo by the writer.)

Pure University of Michigan

The UM Alumni Association Tailgate at Oosterbaan was pure University of Michigan, with all the trimmings.

University of Michigan Marching Band

University of Michigan Marching Band (Photo by the writer.)

University of Michigan dance team

University of Michigan Dance Team (Photo by the writer.)

University of Michigan Glee Club

University of Michigan Glee Club (Photo by the writer.)


Maize and blue balloon bouquets adorned the tables, along with the Zero Waste table tents. (Photo by the writer.)

Refuse Items

SSI students contended with a range of refuse. Here’s a sampling:

hands holding plate with refuse

The whole pile can go right into the compost bin. The muffin wrapper in the top of the frame goes into the trash, because of its wax coating. (Photo by the writer.)

hands holding creamer cups

The three creamer cups contributed by Edward J. Vander Velde. (Photo by the writer.)

two hands holding plastic cups

These are the cups destined to become an art project. (Photo by the writer.)

hands peeling apart a Splenda packet

Splenda packets like this could go into the paper bin, but sugar packets could not – they're coated with wax on the inside. (Photo by the writer.)

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