Post 46 in a series. When Green Turns Brown is an examination of a small town’s digester-energy project, in which Whitewater, Wisconsin would import other cities’ waste, claiming that the result would be both profitable and green.
In this post, I’ll offer questions based on the 9.17.15 remarks of Whitewater’s city manager, Cameron Clapper, about a waste importation program. His remarks were unforced (and possibly scripted in response to a question known to him), and thus offer a fair assessment of city planning on this topic. Yesterday, in Post 45, I posted a transcription of his comments. Today, I will pose questions in the order of his comments.
Today’s questions begin with 270. All the questions in this series may be found in the Question Bin. (Questions that are similar to earlier ones reveal how little responsive, relevant information the municipal government has provided about this project.)
Q: The wastewater treatment plant, there has been some discussion in the community about the fact that originally there was a fairly ambitious plan about possibly importing waste from outside the community and processing it there. That’s now been scaled back but there is still an element of that in the proposal.
270. The questioner, a member of Whitewater’s local government, helpfully says that there is ‘an element’ of waste importation in this program. What does he think that element is? Isn’t that element six years of waste importation, with an assumption of thirty-thousand in fees received from waste haulers dumping waste into the digester?
Whitewater City Manager Clapper: Yep.
Q (continues): Would you like to address that in terms of the concern for environmental issues and the like?
271. The question asks about ‘environmental issues and the like.’ Shouldn’t environmental issues deserve greater attention that a sexagenarian’s dismissive inclusion of them as ‘environmental issues and the like’? What, by the way, are environmental issues if not, especially for those far younger than the questioner, health issues?
272. As I’ve written more than once that waste importation concerns fiscal, economic, environmental, health, and business culture issues for a community. Other than a question or two, and a few vendor-crafted PowerPoint slides, what can either the questioner or Whitewater’s city manager show of original work and thought on these subjects?
Clapper: Yes, I will. And I will go back just a quick second to one of these aerials of the whole facility. So, the digester complex is up in the upper right corner of the screen. And that is where, we, I already mentioned the process and the methane gas byproduct that could be utilized more effectively.
273. Why would anyone claim that the methane ‘could be utilized’ when the very plan that the municipal government has put forth promises six years of actual gas savings? Despite an investment of over two-million in this part of the project, is City Manager Clapper uncertain about gas production even now?
274. Methane gas production is promised to generate significant sums in each of the initial six years of waste importation, as part of a ‘simple payback’ of the costs of importing it. Will City Manager Clapper guarantee those savings from his own salary? Much is said from city government about entrepreneurship and economic development: wouldn’t a private business have to provide assets as collateral for a project?
In addition to what we process onsite we have in the community, we have, umm, grease traps every restaurant and some other food processing places have grease traps and other traps for food waste that then gets collected by a private entity and as their traps are cleaned out and then that material is dumped somewhere. Very often that material comes to our wastewater treatment facility.
275. City Manager Clapper contends that – based on the very plan that he has proposed – waste importation from grease traps will provide a significant part this importation. Does anyone – anyone in all the world – think that local restaurants’ discarded grease will produce vast quantities of methane and tipping fees for even the ‘baby steps’ project he proposes? If some of these restaurants are – by his account – already supplying this grease to Whitewater, of what use is that quantity to the incremental waste dumping he needs to generate tipping fees, etc. for the digester?
We also have food processing plants in the area beyond just our city boundaries, but in the area, that have food waste, ah, high concentrations of byproducts from food processing, all organic material, umm, that they need a place to deposit.
276. Key question: Does City Manager Clapper contend that organic material – discarded from others – is inherently safe? Are not rotting food, human feces, animal feces, and animal carcasses also organic material? How many of those substances would he eat, touch, or willingly slip into the water table?
277. Hasn’t Mr. Clapper’s own chosen vendor – the Donohue firm – already contended that even benign substances in larger qualities are dangerous? If Mr. Clapper is, as he contends in public presentations, knowledgeable about these matters, why does he ignore his own vendor’s assessment?
And so, we have currently, and I wish I had a laser pointer, maybe I can with this cursor, no, I can’t, umm, in the lower right corner of the screen our administration building, right next to the well and right through the door into the place where we have people working there is a dump spot for that waste. Which is very aromatic, to say the least [laughter from audience].
278. About the smell – a complaint that a project in Janesville, WI has elicited from many residents there: does the city manager think that increased importation will make the stench better or worse?
So, umm, and an inadequate site, any big trucks that come in have to snake through, they come down a long road by the power plant and by John’s Disposal, come in, come around down, around again, and back up to that area to dump. What we want to do is establish a more effective, efficient way for them to do that.
And so we’re looking to build a concrete pad on the north side of that digester facility that would allow, it’s actually two or three concrete pads, to address all the different types of waste that would be deposited there, and the different types of, umm, trucks or tankers that would be supplying it.
279. Isn’t a plan for stronger roads for waste haulers’ trucks, and multiple concrete pads confirmation of the size of this effort, and that it’s more than a few grease traps’ of waste?
The material, that, so that’s what we’re doing as part of this project. It’s a few hundred thousand dollars which is a lot of money. It sounds kinda, it makes me ill to say that as if it’s just 300,000 dollars, but it’s a few hundred thousand dollars out of the two-million for this facility that would allow us to have those pads. What that gives us is an opportunity to allow for additional waste to be deposited in our facility and processed.
280. How much additional waste by volume?
Umm, if that were to work, and we found that it was in high demand and the facility was able to function properly without any problems we would go on to explore in future years, five years, ten years, ah, eight years, look at doing more with the equipment inside the digester facility to incorporate the methane, the energy generated by the methane gas that we could then burn into the heating and electricity of the rest of the facility.
281. Isn’t it obvious that this is the thin-entering wedge of a much bigger program? Why, by the way, is there talk about eight or ten years, when supposedly ‘baby steps’ plan is for six?
So, originally, I think the very first time it was brought forward was all kinda one package and the idea that we would be building new digesters, which we are not doing, because we have them already, and in addition, put in all this other stuff in.
282. Why does Cameron Clapper persist in the claim that there was concern about more digesters being built, when that claim has been debunked? See, The City of Whitewater Digester Clarification That Could Use a Clarification. Isn’t it clear by now that the relevant and material concern is hauling waste into Whitewater?
We’re not doing that we’re taking it slow and easy to see if it’s even a viable thing to do.
283. Is better road for trucks and multiple pads for dumping other cities’ unwanted waste is taking it ‘slow and easy’?
But right now many communities throughout the state are switching, their, I guess their focus and mentality with treating wastewater from wastewater treatment to nutrient management, is what it’s called and basically it’s trying to derive from the byproduct of a wastewater treatment facility energy and taking advantage of that sludge and what it can do.
284. If other cities were using all their waste for their own needs, what would there be left for Whitewater? Isn’t it clear that whatever Mr. Clapper considers ‘nutrient management’ to be, it’s not other cities taking waste, but rather other cities dumping their waste in places like Whitewater?
So, umm, another part of the concern, to the question that you asked, Lynn, I think has been that we’d have these tankers with toxic waste driving through our city and dropping waste off at our wastewater treatment facility. That’s not the case.
285. What does Mr. Clapper think toxic means? (See question 277.)
Umm, I think of [sighs] a good example, umm, Hidden Valley Ranch bringing a truck load of all the cream and material that they didn’t use, for their ranch dressing. Bringing it here and dropping it off. Umm, some of those trucks are already coming through anyway whether it be through the bypass or because they have to make stops at different facilities or different buildings in this city.
286. Does Mr. Clapper possibly think that he’ll power this project from unwanted salad dressing?
So, it wouldn’t be, it wouldn’t be anything we’re not already used to and it wouldn’t be toxic, umm, my children are not gonna to glow in the dark when we’re done kinds of stuff [audience laughter]. It’s high concentrations of the same material that’s already going in.
287. Do children only get sick or develop abnormally when they are exposed to substances that make them ‘glow in the dark’? In fact, isn’t it true that every child in the history of the world who grew sick or developed abnormally did so without glowing in the dark? Don’t chemicals cripple and destroy lives each day without fluorescence?
Follow up on 287: Whitewater, is this the quality of your appointed manager’s analysis and understanding?
So in order for that to work we have to evaluate every, every time someone wants to come and drop material off they would have to call ahead, and we would have to get a chemical sample and test that material before we would allow it to stay at our facility, to make sure it doesn’t damage our system and it’s not something other than what we’ve said we’ll accept.
288. What volume does Mr. Clapper expect, that someone would call ahead, and have each truck tested? How does he imagine that system to operate?
289. Isn’t the principal concern not that waste would damage the city’s industrial system, but that it would damage human systems, so to speak, of actual people?
290. Will Cameron Clapper stake his personal assets and his continued municipal employment on a promise by sworn affidavit in which he guarantees that he will provide a verifiable sample from each truckload of waste into the city for testing (by an independent party not of his exclusive selection, available for direct review by any resident), provide proof of the origin of each truckload, and provide proof of the destination of each truckload of sludge (his term, see above) that Whitewater processes?
So, that’s, I don’t know if that answers everything but thank you for that question.
No, Mr. Clapper’s remarks don’t answer everything. I’ve 290 questions, and much more to ask, and to do, as this project advances.
See, on video, Official Remarks of 9.17.15 on Waste Importation from John Adams on Vimeo. The clip is from a longer, 9.17.15 ‘State of the City’ address from Whitewater City Manager Cameron Clapper. The original, full address is online at https://vimeo.com/140321184.
WHEN GREEN TURNS BROWN: Mondays @ 10 AM, here on FREE WHITEWATER.
Like others I have been waiting to see what you’d say. Someone here called this project a joke and anyone reading this assessment can see why (if they didn’t before). This answer to the audience question is weak, also totally unbelievable. These written questions are the ones this city should have asked a year ago.
One takes people as one finds them. For this digester-energy project, there’s more talk about careful thinking than genuine, careful thinking.
It’s so obvious he has no idea what he’s talking about. He’s b.s.ing and talking nonsense. Totally weird that he gives this explanation like it’s helping prove his point. someone should have told him to sit down before he made himself look sillier.
The 9.17 remarks must have seemed a good idea at the time, and I’d guess from the video that the speaker, questioner, and small audience probably thought these answers warranted a mic drop. Smart, talented people who produce a collective result below their expected abilities. See, Whitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way).
Time for a plan b if they’re not nuts. Guess that means no plan b!
I’ve no idea if they’ve planned that carefully; it seems unlikely.
Mr. Anonymous and I are back with more on this. Our speculations: (1) Clapper’s in over his head, (2) Binnie can’t get him out of it since it’s a bad plan, (3) of course it’s about big dumping – no one in town believes it’s not about crap from anywhere for money (4) yeah this explanation made it worse for the city, (5) they’ll keep going, (6) you’ll keep going, (7) your proposal of tests trashes his explanation of tests since he cannot take you up on it without being proved wrong, (8) this will only get worse for the city as they move forward, (9) they should have stayed away from this after the last time, (10) now we finally see that you are in this for the long haul (pun intended)!
Indispensable reading for government affairs in Whitewater. No other website/newspaper talks much about issues like this (assuming they talk about them). This is high-quality work suitable for a university town like Whitewater. Big fans here on campus. 🙂 Kudos to your list of high priority items on your website, too.
We should have asked: what’s next on this?
A review of questions, looking for the most significant ones, and working from that priority list.
Well, hello, to both of you. It seems mostly about dumping; methane, by the way, is almost as great an environmental vulnerability as waste dumping. Either way, it’s almost certainly (significantly) about quantity of imported waste, for tipping fees and water sales to a nearby power plant.
The questions others ask matter less than the answers the municipal administration gives. My questions will matter if I pursue where they lead. I will pursue where they lead.
As a matter of substance, principle, and simple prudence on this issue, I’d not trade my position of inquiry for the municipal administration’s current position of explanation.
This idea won’t get better. It’s just pretending to say that other cities are rushing to do this. It’s a plan for down and outers. Towns do this because they have quit on themselves. It’s an idea for suckers, that’s all. A successful community of people who cared about their futures would never laugh the way the people in this room do. A successful community of people who cared about their families and property would not have thought the glowing children quip was funny. They wouldn’t hire the kind of person who thought that was funny. If someone showed a successful community the video no one would hire someone who said these things. Part of what you’re doing is showing people who care that they’ve settled for politicians who aren’t up to it.
I think the issue wins or loses on the merits, but I take your point. A post I wrote called Local Isn’t Local tried to make your point, but I’m not sure how well it did. I’d guess the more local officials do on this project, the worse Whitewater will look in comparison to other communities where this scheme is rejected. For men who claim to be marketing gurus and economic development experts, they show little understanding for how to present Whitewater to her competitive advantage.
If there’s anyone in the government who thought Wastewater Superintendent Tim Reel (a strange mix of ignorant and arrogant) was someone to lead on these issues, he was mistaken. The subsequent 9.17.15 remarks from the city manager are an unforced error, but I doubt they see that.
Far earlier, when City manager Clapper talked at a public meeting about trying to identify CAFOs (factory farms) – himself – as a source of waste supply, it was clear he didn’t have a grasp of how others outside Whitewater see this. (It’s also possible he didn’t think it would matter what people inside Whitewater thought, or even stranger, that he thought there would be a desirable pro-CAFO crowd. CAFO advocates are about as popular as Big Tobacco.)
But for me, I’ll leave a political vote on this to Mr. Clapper and his Common Council. I’m more interested in the strength on the merits of proponents’ claims, how this project develops as a test of the veracity of those claims, and how the project’s development might contrast with other cities that have rejected waste importation.
How much has been spent on this already? Was it about a million dollars for the engineers? What part of that fee went to teach politicians common sense? None apparently.They don’t have any. People who stay here are stuck with mounds of crap. Or lies about it not being crap.You should just play they part where he says its all bout ranch dressing.Over and over: HIDDEN VALLEY RANCH DRESSING!!!
Engineering services have not been free, nor have those of any other vendor.
Before vendors arrive, and after they leave, however, it’s resident bureaucrats and politicians who are responsible for, and managers of, projects like this. The responsibility to the community for the effects of a program rests with local officials. It’s an official obligation (even if the vendor conveniently escapes thereafter to other projects, other places).
I truly cannot explain parts of the 9.17.15 remarks, but there must have been a few locally who thought them clever. I’ve tried to show the clip widely, here and elsewhere to a varied audience (aware of the possibility of selection bias) and the response has been almost identical. There’s much more work to do, however, so that I don’t know what else I may yet find.
Hi John Thanks for taking on environmental issues. a lot of people don’t care, but A LOT more people do. you have plenty of readers on campus including professors who read you.
Hi Denise – Thanks for reading and commenting.