Omaha Council Moves Forward with Yard Waste Study


June 9th, 2016

city-council-chambersDuring their weekly meeting, Omaha City Council members approved a study to  evaluate the City’s yard-waste collection system, and examine possible alternatives. 

Council President Ben Gray was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting, so the Council’s Vice-President, Chris Jerram, led in his place.

The Council moved quickly through the first half of their agenda, and gave their approval on several liquor license applications.

The bulk of the meeting time was spent discussing three items, the first of which was an ordinance to amend the City code in regards to historically designated buildings. The City wants to streamline the process to demolish a building, but needs to create a policy which balances a developers desire to demolish with the need to preserve historical homes and buildings around Omaha.

The Council was scheduled to either approve or deny the ordinance, but Councilman Jerram presented a motion to lay the vote over until July 12th.

“There are a couple of developers who are philosophically opposed to this, and that’s their right. If they persuade four of you to join in their opposition and vote this down, then that’s fine,” Jerram said. “There are others who have suggestions that they’d like to see in term of amendments.”

 The Council unanimously approved Jerram’s layover motion.

Next, the Council members discussed a popular topic of late, garbage, or more specifically, yard waste.

In front of the Council Tuesday was a resolution some called the next step in the City’s efforts to find a cost-effective, eco-friendly solution to current collection issues.

The resolution approves more than $90,000 to be paid to SCS Engineering for what’s been titled a Yard Waste Study.

Several opponents of the resolution told the Council they were concerned about the seemingly narrow scope of the yard waste study, and were fearful the authors might be “encouraged” or influenced to come to a pre-determined outcome. One example alluded to by Councilman Pete Festersen was included researchers being led to find in favor of the City’s current de-facto practice of co-collecting yard-waste and garbage.

Andy Harpenau is the owner of Soil Dynamics, a composting business based in Ashland. He told Council members any study undertaken should look at every option.

“Composting can be done,” Harpenau said, “It can be profitable. We think this is a great opportunity for the City to look at privatizing composting in Omaha. Let’s not forget we’re talking about 26,000 tons of compost which equates to about 80,000 yards or so of yard waste staying out of the landfill. This is a great time to privatize something like this and you could do that very easily.”

 Harpenau and the other opponents of the Yard Waste Study didn’t stand in opposition for long though, after Mike Miller with CSC Engineering explained further the scope of the study.

“I wish I had a crystal ball that could tell you exactly how many alternatives we’re ultimately going to evaluate, but I don’t have that crystal ball,” Miller said. “I do have experience from a lot of other sister-like communities and understand what has and hasn’t worked. And as we dive into the scope of this project and understand the City of Omaha specifics, I think some clarity will come forth on what those alternatives will be.”

 The Council unanimously approved the resolution to move forward on the Yard Waste Study, but before giving his approval, Councilman Franklin Thompson spoke of what he called the elephant in the room when it comes trash and yard waste collection in Omaha; the cost.

“Currently, what we have in Omaha today, if you compare what we pay for now compared to cities surrounding us in the Midwest, we’re actually getting our [trash] services for a much cheaper price,” Thompson said.  “So if we were to go out and do some things that other cities are doing, we would be paying quite a bit more; for some reason that issue has been left out of this conversation. It needs to be a part of the discourse. Magical thinking is not going to be a part of the solutions.”

Omaha residents, on average, pay about $3.50 per month for trash collection.

The third and final item of note from Tuesday’s meeting was a resolution which would authorize the City to enter into a plea deal with Anthony Murcek. Murcek was injured in May of 2013 when the vehicle he was driving was struck by an Omaha Police cruiser responding to a call.

Police said Murcek did not have a license or insurance at the time of the crash, and also had fictitious plates on his vehicle. But according to City Attorney Paul Kratz, a jury in a civil trial would not have access to that information.

“We weigh the likelihood of success versus the amount of the settlement, and make a decision if we should go forward or engage in a settlement,” Kratz said. “In this case we thought it best to take the settlement amount.”

 Part of the $157,000 will be used to cover Murcek’s legal fees and the more than $70,000 worth of medical bills he incurred as a result of the crash.

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