Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Thiel stands alone against wood-chipping plan in West Fork of White River watershed

Almost clear: Old race track property to be wood chipping site
BY ROBIN MERO Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Fayetteville's ice storm debris problem was neatly solved — almost.

The city has nearly finished collecting tons of branches and limbs from yards and properties following the Jan. 27 storm. A contractor was found to grind the wood into mulch for use in gardening or as bedding in chicken houses.

Bedding materials are desperately needed by poultry producers, as saw mills across the region have closed due to a stagnant housing construction industry, the Fayetteville City Council heard Tuesday night.

The city will be reimbursed for more than 80 percent of the $5 million-plus cost.

There is only a single hitch — one that caused Ward 1 Alderman Brenda Thiel to vote against five fellow aldermen Tuesday.

The contractor will haul the 150,000 cubic yards of partially chopped wood to a 15.2-acre property south of Willoughby Road and east of U.S. 71B. That is the same property where the Thunder Valley Race Track once operated.

The contractor will spend three months grinding that wood, seven days a week and up to 10 hours a day, as a dozen tractor-trailers continuously cycle through — for loading and hauling the product to Huntsville. There will be about 1,500 trailer loads, predicted Gary Easterling of International Equipment Distributors, which won the $439,500 contract for disposal.

Thiel is concerned about noise, and that water runoff will be contaminated and flow into the West Fork of the White River.

"I understand the urgency, but I cannot support this," Thiel told the council. "This is in a valley and, as we know, the noise reverberates. This is surrounded by a residential neighborhood and will disrupt the area. I'm very sympathetic, as this population dealt with an issue for several years."

Mayor Lioneld Jordan said he also finds the solution imperfect, but he emphasized time constraints. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality gave Fayetteville a May 27 deadline to remove the chips from three locations in the city, due to concerns about spontaneous combustion and leaching.

"The easiest thing to do would have been burn this wood, like Springdale did," Jordan said. "I thought we were a more environmentally friendly city than that, so I offered to chip it."
Thiel stands alone in defending her neighborhood and Beaver Lake watershed
Aldermen were asked Tuesday to rezone the 15.2 acres temporarily from RA (residential agricultural) to I-2 (general industrial). This will allow the work to be done, and give city staff the authority to control dust, noise and erosion. The property will be rezoned back to R-A after work is complete.

The ADEQ must still approve a storm-water prevention plan before the chipping and hauling can begin. Water flowing through the chips can create tannic acid, which has a very low pH and can cause environmental harm.

The city is currently capturing water at sites where the wood chips are stored and pumping it straight into the sewer systems, David Jurgens, water and wastewater director, said. Preventative measures for the new site may include plugging drains to prevent runoff and the use of plastic to catch water.

The land, owned by Sam Mathias, is easily accessed by tractor-trailers, and the potential of them getting stuck is minimized by the grass surface and concrete paths, city staff said.

Easterling said he looked at about 10 possible locations for relocating the chips for grinding, but they were either too small or inaccessible by trucks.

About 75 percent of the material will be sold as poultry bedding, Easterling said.

"It's really in demand because of the sawmill shutdowns, and right now is when it's needed," he said. "The only other options are rice hulls, which aren't good, and pine shavings — which are expensive."

Easterling also ground storm debris for Berryville and Huntsville, but those were much smaller propositions, he said.

A second Ward 1 alderman, Adella Gray, was absent from Tuesday's meeting.

Thiel cast the only oppositional vote in the 5-1 decision to rezone the property. The issue was not on the regular agenda but had been mentioned publicly at the end of a special council meeting Thursday.

"I cannot express enough how disappointed I am the public has not had the opportunity to comment, particularly with the trouble we went to change the use of that part of the property," Thiel said.

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