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The city is mulling solutions to self-combusting mulch at the city’s green waste site

September 20, 2023

First, here’s the good news: Your leaves and grass clippings are still welcome at the Webster City municipal green waste site at the east end of Ohio Street.

The not-so-good news is that for the time being, until some solutions can be ironed out, the dumping of branches and tree remains at the site is suspended.

That’s because the mulch pile the city has been stockpiling for, apparently, too many years has begun to self-combust.

One only needed to stick their nose outside very early Friday morning to know what that means.

Daniel Ortiz-Hernandez, Webster City’s city manager, knows. In the wee hours of that morning he manned a hose to cool off the smoldering pile.

That was a short-term fix.

Longer-term — and preventative — fixes dominated Monday night’s City Council meeting because the site can’t go back to business as usual.

That means commercial tree businesses that operate in Webster City, and Webster City residents, both of whom are legally allowed to dump at the site, have no public place to dump until this is resolved.

“The pile’s too large,” Ortiz-Hernandez said Monday when the council wrestled with potential solutions.

Smoldering mulch was first reported on Sunday, September 3, after which site monitoring was begun. Though heavy equipment was used to “work the pile,” and hot spots were doused with water, the heat escalated to more than 200 degrees in some spots. Increased smoldering was seen and, at least at one point, so were open flames.

On Tuesday, Ortiz-Hernandez confirmed that the city is still reaching out to other communities and agencies in search of solutions.

Potential short-term solutions, based on the existing tree waste, including wood mulch.

• Continue to restrict tree waste until the site has capacity. This could mean waiting for existing windrows to decompose further until becomes suitable compost

• Relocate compost windrows offsite on private land. Seek out land and enter into agreements with private landowners. Maintain windrows and Department of Natural Resources regulations will apply.

• Continue to not accept tree waste; consider placing windrows on city-owned land adjacent to where new wastewater treatment plant will go. This would have to be done next spring.

• Spread mulch on city-owned parcels. This will kill the grass underneath and weeds will eventually grow back.

• Approve J. Pettiecord, Inc., of Bondurant, proposal to haul away all tree waste, which is approximately $250,000.

• Haul wood mulch to North Central Iowa Regional Solid Waste Agency in Fort Dodge. Ortiz-Hernandez said Tuesday he had not heard if this would be feasible. The Solid Waste Agency would have to approve this solution. There would be transportation costs involved.

There are proposed long-term considerations:

• Resume accepting tree waste once capacity is available with no restrictions. City Code states the green waste disposal site only for Webster City residents. Currently, there is no way to enforce this.

• Increase the fee for tree surgeons (contractors). Currently, it is only $500 dollars per year with no restriction on how much to dump and no way to verify they are dumping loads from projects within the Webster City limits.

• Fence the green waste site and hire part-time personnel to screen loads coming in. This is common in other Iowa communities and landfills.

• Purchase an air burner. This may be needed regardless of all other considerations. They cost about $150,000.

• Restrict green waste site to only residents.

• Restrict size of tree waste to only accept branches/trunks no greater than 6 to 8 inches in diameter and 6 to 8 feet long.

• Implement dumping fees.

• Relocate green waste collection site.

This problem impacts multiple other issues:

• Two of the city’s payloaders are now disabled; the city is renting a payloader from John Deere in the interim.

• Oxbow Project Brewer Creek Park is affected.

• Street and water main repairs are impacted due to manpower issues at the very least.

• Pothole patching is also impacted.

• Winter preparations and servicing of equipment is impacted.


View this article as it originally appeared in the Daily Freeman-Journal.

Last modified: September 20, 2023

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