BROCKTON — Brockton balked on a $34.8M plan to turn sewage sludge into “biochar” it could sell for $300 a ton.
Mayor Robert Sullivan said Friday that he put the proposal on pause after pushback from other elected officials.
“We need to look at the legal and financial impacts,” Sullivan said. “My number one role as mayor is as a fiduciary duty to the people who put me in office.”
Before Friday’s stunning reversal, city councilors signaled openness to the move and had faulted the administration for giving them so little time to consider such a big, complex proposal. The city was under the gun to seek make-or-break state financing for the project before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
At issue was a proposal to upgrade the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Oak Hill Way. The city would have scrapped the existing incinerator and installed two sludge dryers and two “pyrolysis” units. Farmers buy the resulting product, biochar, as a fertilizer or soil conditioner.
The idea sounded counterintuitive, but the numbers add up in taxpayers’ favor, said Troy Clarkson, the city’s chief financial officer. He’d explained at a recent Finance Committee meeting that it costs Brockton $2.5M a year to truck sludge to Naugatuck, Connecticut for processing. Not only would that cost go away, but Brockton-made biochar would, conservatively, fetch $300 a ton, he said.
“We believe that over the life of this loan we could save more than $60 million,” said Clarkson.
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Whatever the financial appeal, several city councilors said environmental questions need urgent answers first.
“I’m concerned about odor and the impact on residents,” said Councilor Susan Nicastro, who represents Ward 4, home of the wastewater plant.
Those questions were to have received answers on Wednesday at a Ward 4 public meeting. Pat Hill, commissioner of the Department of Public Works and the city’s point-person on the project, had invited environmental experts to explain the project.
Nicastro, reached Friday, said environmental experts will still be coming to the ward meeting, as the underlying issues won’t go away just because the current proposal has been shelved.
“This is an opportunity to influence what happens as we upgrade that plant, and I won’t let up,” she said Friday.
At-Large Councilor Win Farwell was among those saying the administration should have put out more information earlier.
“On this particular issue, we deserve more information than we’ve been given,” Farwell said.
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No one would blame Ward 4 residents for feeling like the proposal was the latest example of the south side getting the shaft.
Ward 4 is home to the capped landfill once known as Mount Trashmore for its infamous stink and the wastewater treatment plant and was eyed for a 350-megawatt, gas-fired power plant that never came to fruition.
The looming deadline that had spurred the rush came from the State Revolving Fund. The fund aims to kickstart infrastructure projects by forgiving significant parts of loans Brockton might take out. The fund could forgive at least 9.9% of the loan, or as much as 49%.
Sullivan said he decided to put off the sludge biochar project after huddling Friday with elected officials and top city brass, including Nicastro, Ward 6 City Councilor Jack Lally, State Rep. Michelle Dubois, D-Brockton, and Clarkson.
The city is moving forward with a separate $16M loan, also using the State Revolving Fund, to revamp the city’s sewer system.
Ward 4 Public Meeting
City Councilor Susan Nicastro will host a public meeting for Ward 4 residents at 7 pm on June 1 at the Davis School, 380 Plain St.
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