Thursday, June 10, 2010

SingleStream Recycling - Additional Recycled Plastics


The Ann Arbor City Council recently voted to spend over $6.7 million dollars to convert the recycle program from dual stream to single stream recycling. The primary argument made to justify the expense was that additional materials would be collected and that the sale or diversion of these materials from the landfill would pay for the additional cost of the program, including the investment for the conversion.

While the arguments seem logical in a qualitative manner, it was disappointing that the proponents of the transition to single stream recycling did not provide any quantitative data on the amount of additional material that might be collected, the value of this material and the environmental advantage of recycling it.

In both programs paper and cardboard, are collected, this is the fiber stream. Glass, plastics aluminum and steel containers are also collected, the container stream. In dual stream recycling these two streams are separated by the citizens. In single stream recycling all materials are combined at the household source and then later separated by a contractor.

At present, almost all types of paper and cardboard are recyclable. This will not change with the conversion to single stream. However, additional plastics will be allowed in the container component of the single stream program. It is the sale of these materials that must pay the additional $6.7 million cost of conversion to the single stream program if the program is to be cost effective. This report will quantify the additional plastics that will be included in the single stream program.

This report investigates:

How much additional plastic will be recycled in the single stream program?

What is the economic value of this material, or value of diverting it from the landfill?

What is the benefit of recycling this material?



At present only type one and type two plastics can be recycled. Under the proposed single stream program plastics of types 4, 5, 6, and 7 will also be recyclable. But there are additional constraints on the specific items that may be recycled in either program.

First, in the case of most plastic objects the generic type of the plastic is designated by a symbol molded into or marked on the object. The symbol is a triangle of arrows with a number inside the triangle. The number defines the type of the plastic. This labeling system was developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry. It should be noted that the presence of the symbol only designates the type of plastic, not that it is, or is not recyclable. In fact the Society of the Plastics Industry specifically instructs manufactures:(1)

". . . Do not make recycling claims in close proximity to the code" and

". . . Do not use the term "recyclable" in proximity to the code."

A plastic is not recyclable just because the symbol and numbers are molded or printed on the object. The present Ann Arbor recycling program places the following additional constraints on the plastics which may be recycled. (2)

Includes bottle-and-screw-top jar shapes only, marked 1 or 2 (PETE or HDPE), such as milk jugs and bottles used for laundry, cleaners, cooking oil and water. No tubs, such as for margarine or yogurt.  Remove and discard all plastic lids. “

Under the single stream recycling program the following plastics may be recycled: (3)

“As part of the upgrade of the city’s Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in mid-2010, Ann Arbor will add and recycle all clean plastic bottles and tubs marked #1, #2, #4, #5, #6, and #7. Bulky plastic HDPE #2 items such as buckets, crates, trays, and outdoor furniture will also be accepted.

Please note that the plastics to be accepted must have a bottle (check for a neck) or tub shape (such as a yogurt tub, carryout plastic tray, microwave freezer food tray, berry box, etc.) The plastics meeting the shape criteria must be marked with a recycling number.

No #3 (PVC for PolyVinyl Chloride--used for some shampoo and food bottles), polystyrene foam (aka Styrofoam™), biodegradable plastics (marked PLA or compostable), or plastic bags. “


In order to consider the effect of converting to dual stream recycling we need to consider each type of plastic and the amount that can be recycled at present and in the proposed single stream program. The plastic containers in one household were carefully reviewed. In addition plastic objects in several stores were also reviewed to determine the types of plastics that might be recycled.

The following paragraphs give the symbol for each plastic and the types of additional objects that may be recycled in the single stream program.

TYPE 1 - polyethylene terephthalate (PETE)

Type 1 plastic is currently recyclable if it is a bottle. It should be noted that carbonated beverages sold in type 1 bottles are returnable for a $0.10 deposit in the State of Michigan. PETE is clear, strong and does not break. It is probably the most common plastic used for food and drink containers.

Under the proposed single stream recycling program additional containers that are not bottles will be recyclable. There are two common forms, one is the cylindrical containers commonly used for olives and similar foods selected and filled by the customer in the food store. The other is the rectangular light tubs or clam shell containers used for nuts, fresh and dried fruit, other prepared foods and some produce.

TYPE 2 - high density polyethylene (HDPE)

HDPE is the plastic most often used for milk containers. It is usually translucent, but may be opaque and colored in some instances. Type 2 plastic is currently recyclable if it is a bottle or a screw top food container.

Under the single stream program all type 2 clean plastic bottles and tubs will be recyclable. In addition, bulky plastic HDPE #2 items such as buckets, crates, trays, and outdoor furniture will also be accepted. Type 2 plastic is commonly used for 5 gallon pail packaging of bulk foods. It is not often used in retail size food packaging, only one example, a tofu package was found. Therefore it is unlikely that including container shapes will have a significant effect on the residential recycling of type 2 plastic.

The advantage of recycling bulk HDPE items such as lawn furniture is also questionable since a recent review of plastic lawn furniture in a retail store indicated that all the lawn furniture for sale was made from polypropylene, type 5 plastic, and would not be recyclable under the single stream program.

Another difficulty in recycling bulk items is that the item must be marked with the symbol designating the plastic type. Several bulk items were located were the plastic type symbol was on the package of the product but not on the product. Consequently these would not be recyclable.

TYPE 3 - polyvinyl chloride (PVC or vinyl)

Type 3 plastic, polyvinyl chloride, is not recyclable at present and will not be recyclable in the single stream program. A notable concern of PVC is that it is a chlorinated hydrocarbon and can create toxic fumes if burned.

TYPE 4 - low density polyethylene (LDPE)

Low density polyethylene is not presently recyclable. It will be recyclable in the single stream program if it is in the form of a bottle of food container.

However, this is the material used for films and plastic bags, not bottles and tubs. Since sheet materials are not accepted in the single stream program it is very unlikely any additional type 4 plastic will be recycled in the single stream program.

TYPE 5 - polypropylene (PP)

Type 5 plastic is not currently collected in the dual stream program. It will be collected in the single stream program. Polypropylene is typically a harder plastic that tears or breaks more easily than polyethylene.

While there are some bottles that are made from polypropylene, the most common use is small opaque food containers such as yogurt and soft margarine tubs. These are common, and will probably be the greatest source of any additional plastic recycled in the single stream program

TYPE 6 - polystyrene (PS)

Polystyrene is not presently accepted in the recycle program. It will be included in the single stream program with two important requirements. It must be a tub or bottle shaped container and it cannot be expanded polystyrene (styrofoam). Initially there did not seem to be any type 6 containers meeting the recycling criteria. A few were recently found as packaging for fresh fruit.

Since polystyrene is rarely used in a bottle and most polystyrene tub containers are from the foam version of the plastic very little additional polystyrene will be collected in the single stream program.

TYPE 7 – other, or is made of more than one resin used in combination.

The recycle characteristics of type 7 plastic is very similar to that of type 6. It is not presently accepted; it will be accepted in the single stream approach, but the additional condition that it cannot be PLA, or compostable, eliminates virtually all the type 7 plastic that is likely to be found in the home.

The only common residential use of type 7 is the biodegradable food containers used by some stores such as the Ann Arbor Peoples Food Co-op. It is rather ironic that this store adopted this plastic as more environmentally desirable than the more common type 1 but the City will not recycle or compost it.



Reviewing each of the categories of plastics the only additional materials that will be commonly recycled from residents will be type 1 and type 5 tub shaped food containers. The type 1 tubs are the clear, round containers with separate lids that are commonly used for retail sales of olives, stuffed grape leaves and similar items; and the tray or clam shell containers used for berries, dried fruits, nuts and other produce items. The type five plastic tubs are most often used for dairy products such as yogurt, sour cream, etc.

The amount of these items were carefully monitored in one household over the period of several weeks. The additional containers that will be recyclable were weighed using a postage scale.

In order to test if the monitored household was representative a request was made to an email group asking if members of that group would estimate the additional plastic containers that they would be able to recycle in the single stream program.

Fourteen households responded to the request. The average was consistent with the result from the original household more carefully sampled. The results are in the table below.

As discussed before, the items from the carefully monitored household were weighed on a postal scale. The results were that the cylindrical tubs used for olives and similar food weighed about 1 ounce. Large, 32 ounce, yogurt containers weighed about 1.5 ounce. The small individual serving small yogurt containers weigh about 0.5 ounce and the thin produce tubs also weigh about 0.5 ounce.

For this analysis an average weight of 1 ounce was used for all containers The results by are given in the following table.



The city data indicate there are about 28,000 single or dual family collection points in the city. Commercial and large apartments are not part of the same collection system and are not included on the Recyclebank rewards program. Multiplying the additional weight of plastic each household is estimated to recycle each month by the number of households and by 12, gives an estimated additional plastic collection of 220,000lb/yr

Each month the magazine W4aste and Recycle News publishes some data on the value of recycled materials.(4) The data for published since January 2010 indicates an average value for sorted scrap plastic of about $0.20/lb. This means the value of the additional plastic will be about $44,000/yr.


One of the arguments made to justify the cost of the single stream program is the reduced cost of disposing the additional materials in the landfill.

The present cost to dispose of material in the land fill is $25/ton. (5) The estimated additional recycled material is 220,000 lbs/yr or 110tons. With a disposal cost of $25/ton this is only a cost of $2,750/yr.

In a recent article in the Ann Arbor Observer Mr. McMurtrie stated that single stream recycling could double the amount on materials presently sent to the landfill because of cross contamination (5). He estimated the increase to be 1 to 2 percent of the collected materials. This calculates to between 50 and 100 ton/yr. This additional amount going to the landfill offsets much of the landfill savings from the additional plastic recycling.


When the single stream proposal was brought to City Council, the manager or the solid waste division asserted that the additional costs would be paid back to the city in only a few years. The supporting calculations were not made available to Council or the public. However the Mayor asserted that much of the payback would be from reduced landfill costs

Combining the scrap value of the additional plastics and the reduction in land fill costs provides a total return to the city of approximately $45,000/yr. The cost of implementing the single stream program is over $6.7 million. Therefore the simple straight line pay back period is well over 100 years. Since none of the equipment has anywhere near that life expectancy, the single stream program will never payback.

Since the weight of the additional plastics which are likely to be collected is small it is impossible to believe that a reduction in landfill cost can pay for the program. This is supported by the published industry literature. Waste and Recycling News reported that speakers at the 2010 Chicago Conference on Residential Recycling asserted that greatest myth of recycling was that it was “free”.(6) They asserted that people must expect to pay for recycling. One of the reasons cited was the cost of sorting the recycled materials which is greater in the single stream process.


Some people will find it easier to roll a larger capacity cart to the curb less frequently than carrying the hand totes. This may encourage greater recycling and this is an environmental benefit. However the large cart requires automated pickup and this is not compatible with collection of more diverse hazardous items such as such as used motor oil, batteries, florescent lights, and electronic components. Consequently citizens that wish to properly dispose of motor oil, batteries, and florescent lights must now take them to the drop off station and pay a fee.(7)

Curbside collection is one of the most important aspects of citizen participation in recycling programs. The elimination of curbside collection of used motor oil, batteries, florescent lights will result in more of these hazardous materials simply being discarded. This is detrimental to the environment. Electronic items are now a major problem in landfills. (8) It would be environmentally better to provide curbside pickup of these items to encourage recycling than to collect a small quantity of additional inert plastic.

In addition, the cost of the program, $6.7 million, will require reduction in other solid waste programs programs. One of the programs which may be eliminated is the fall leaf collection progam. This will result in more leaves washed into the storm drains and into the Huron River. This will increase phosphorous content in the river and may result in a degradation of the river water quality.


The single stream program includes automated, mechanical collection. This is an advantage to the company, Recycle Ann Arbor which does the curbside recycling collection.

Combining the container and fiber streams makes sorting much more difficult. Much of the additional cost of the program is for additional sorting equipment, consultants to assist in purchasing the equipment and then in the contractor cost to operate the more complex equipment. The transition to single stream recycling is an advantage to FCR the company contracted to sort and process the materials.

Finally, Ann Arbor has hired a consultant to assist in the transition to single stream recycling. The consultant, Resource Recycling Systems Inc. (RRSI) will also benefit from single stream recycling.


The single stream program will allow some additional plastics to be recycled. A careful investigation of these additional plastics indicate that they represent a very small increase in the total mass of recyclable materials.

The calculation of the value of the additional materials that will be recycled shows that the value of the materials, together with the reduction in landfill costs, is far too low to pay for the increased cost of the single stream program.

The position that recycling is not “free” as presented by the proponents of single stream recycling is supported by the industry literature. This does not mean that recycling is “bad”, only that expansion of any program, such as the one Ann Arbor intends to implement comes at a cost. The question that Council should have asked is whether the benefit is worth the $6.7 million cost.

Part of the cost is that the present collection of hazardous materials such as used motor oil, batteries, and florescent lights is being discontinued so much of this material will simply be discarded instead of being recycled. It would be better for the environment to retain the present curb side collection of the present hazardous materials and increase it to include electronic items than to collect a small amount of additional inert plastic materials.

The implementation is very expensive to the taxpayers, but it is a greater benefit to the contractors in the process than to the taxpayers or the environment.

SENSITIVITY of the Analysis to Parameter Variations

whenever a calculation of this nature is done it is desirable to test the sensitivity of the calculation. In particular is there any parameter that might alter the result? Also is there any reason to believe that the sampled or the estimated values used might be high or low?

From the stand point of the calculation, an error in the value of any of the parameters will only cause a proportional error in the final result.

The sample or citizens interviewed was small and this is a potential source of error in the number of containers recycled. Still there are some good indicators of its accuracy. There is a wide range in the responses, from 0 to 40 containers per month, yet the average value, 10.5, is very close to the value, 10, from the household that was carefully monitored.

The average number of residents in the households surveyed was slightly less, but close to the typical number reported for the Ann Arbor average. There might be some error in the estimated number of container that will be recycled in the single stream program, but there isn't any reason to believe the variation from the number used in the calculation will be significant.

Most of the containers weighed, weighed less than one ounce. One of the households reporting the highest anticipated increase in container recycling stated that the majority of the containers they would be recycling were small containers weighing less than one ounce. The calculation used a value of one ounce for all containers. If there is any variation from this value it is probably that the true value is less than one ounce/container.

The value used in the calculation was an average of all reported values of all recycled plastics. But the source of the data only reported values for the most common and highest priced commodities. The actual recycled stream will include other plastics, like type 7, which have very little if any resale value. The number used for the value of the recycled material is probably high unless the sales value of recycled plastic significantly increases from the value in the first quarter of 2010.

The conclusion is the calculation is not particularly sensitive to changes in any of the parameters. It is also more likely that the estimates used for of the weight and resale value of the additional material are more likely to be optimistic than an under estimate Therefore, it is very unlikely that any of the parameters will change sufficiently to modify the conclusions of the report.


1) Society of the Plastics Industry. SPI Resin Identification Code - Guide to Correct Use


3) A2 Recycling Collection Program to Roll Out July-August 2010

4) Commodity Pricing by Region Waste and Recycling News January through May 2010

5) Tipping Point? , Dave Gershman, Ann Arbor Observer, June 2010

6) No free lunch when it comes to recycling , Jim Johnson Waste and Recycling News. April 12, 2010

7) Recycle Ann Arbor's Drop-Off Station Announces New Fee Structure; December 15, 2009.
Jean Brown,, (734) 662-6288, ext. 115

8) Toxic Chemicals Resulting From The Disposal Of Electronic Equipment
U.S. EPA. Potential Environmentally Relevant Chemicals

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Solar Power at the Market
Demonstration Project or Just Bad Investment?

On June 3, 2008 an articles in the Ann Arbor News by A. Nash had the headline: Ann Arbor Farmers Market invests in solar collectors .

The article reported:

The project is one step toward a city goal of having municipal operations running on 30 percent renewable energy by 2010, and about 20 percent of the entire community on renewable energy by 2015.

"It's a good place to show off the technology a little bit," said Mayor John Hieftje. "Part of the project is not just to power city government but to educate our residents about what can be done."

The 156 solar collectors will generate about $1,500 worth of electricity per year to be used by the market offices. The solar power also can supply the electrical needs of the vendors who set up their stalls at the market.

Downtown Development Authority provided $100,000 for the project at the Farmers Market, said David Konkle, the city's energy coordinator.

The solar collectors should be up and running by July.

It is now 2010 and time to evaluate this demonstration project. The following chart shows the utility costs for the Market

The utility cost would include water and sewage costs, but about half of the expense is for electricity. The market office uses electric heat and an electric hot water heater. The data for fiscal years 2006 through 2009 came from the audited financial statements of the city of Ann Arbor. The data for fiscal 2010 are from a hand out provided by the Market Manager at the February meeting of the Market Commission.

If the panels were operating in July 2008, that would have been the beginning of fiscal year 2009. The cost savings for the electricity should be very apparent in 2009. Obviously it is not, utilities in 2009 were greater than in 2008. If you look very closely you might claim that the increase is less than it would have been without the solar panels. But even this is only about $100, and it may just be a statistical fluctuation.

How could our city officials have gotten it so wrong? They simply did not stop to think or they did not want too. They calculated the value of total power the panels could generate, but you cannot store electricity. The Michigan state law is not very receptive to forcing the utility companies like DTE to buy power from small generators.

Mayor Hieftje commented:
The collectors are generating power and it's being used, said Hieftje. However, there's a dispute over whether the city or DTE should pay for a special electric meter. Until that's settled, the city can't push surplus power back onto the electrical grid.(1)

So basically it is use it or lose it. The Market uses most of its electric power in early morning when the vendors need lights for setting up or in winter for heating the market office. These are the two periods when the solar panel either do not work at all,or provide little power.What did the city get for $100,000? A nice sign at the market that proclaims Ann Arbor a Solar City.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Single Stream vs Dual Stream Recycling


Many citizens have criticized the City Council's decision to change from the current dual stream recycling program to a single stream approach.

In the current dual stream approach paper and cardboard are kept separate from the glass, steel, and plastic containers. Under the proposed single stream approach the citizens would be required to put all recyclable materials in a single cart. After collection, they would then be separated by a contractor at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF).


At the present time thousands of citizens voluntarily do what City Council proposes to pay a contractor to do in the future. Based on the advice of Tom McMurtrie, Ann Arbor’s Environmental Systems Analyst, and that of and the City Administrator, Roger Fraser, the Ann Arbor City Council voted to spend more than $6 million to make this change.

A recent study by the Container Recycling Institute (CRI) supports the citizen position that it is undesirable to mix the two types of recycled material and then attempt to separate them later at a MRF. (1) The Executive Director of CRI, Susan Collins, summarizes their report in the statement: “you can't unscramble an egg”.

This report was brought to the attention of City Council by concerned citizens. The city Administrator commented that a response would be prepared by Tom McMurtrie. We have received a copy of Mr. McMurtrie's response. (2) We have reviewed it and have many comments.

Mr. McMurtrie states:

The report is basically a literature review compilation prepared by a Canadian based consultant whose specialty is industrial producer-responsibility and beverage container recovery systems. The report does not demonstrate expertise, other than literature references, in recycling markets, MRF’s or recycling collection and processing systems.”

In other words the report is a compilation of the literature, documenting the published experiences of others. This is exactly the type of information that is used for government regulations and decisions. When investing millions of dollars, or requiring others to invest millions, it is prudent to search for tested, proven, documented solutions.

Mr McMurtrie asks City Council to ignore the published literature because he asserts that the Container Recycling Institute does not have expertise in recycling. Perhaps Mr. McMurtrie should review Ms. Collins' resume: “Years in waste and recycling, 20. Accomplishments: As a consultant, Collins developed plans to help California municipalities reduce waste by 50%, and then helped implement those programs so the goals were met and in many cases exceeded. In 2008, she worked with the city of San Jose to draft major elements of that city’s zero-waste plan. Having served on the board of the California Resource Recovery Association for nine years, she is now a senior adviser to the organization.” (5)

Mr McMurtrie further states:

The role of curbside recycling, especially single stream curbside, is often presented by bottle bill opponents as a reason to not support container deposit systems. As a result, the CRI chose to fund and present this study as part of their push back against these bottle bill opponents. Unfortunately the report falsely presents single stream recycling as inconsistent with container deposit systems which it is clearly not. “

This is basically a diversionary tactic. Mr. McMurtrie asserts a hidden motive to the report and then attacks the motive he asserts. You might read the CRI report and see whether you believe the material supports his assertion; “the report falsely presents single stream recycling as inconsistent with container deposit”. It is true that single stream recycling is often encouraged as an alternative to bottle return laws by the segment of the industry that opposes return laws. But this is hardly a reason for Ann Arbor to adopt single stream recycling.

Furthermore, the intent of the report is not what is important. What is important is the referenced literature, and the fact that the literature documents problems with single stream recycling. Although Mr McMurtrie agrees that there are problems with single stream recycling, he states:

. . . .our processor (FCR) is proposing a state of the art system and can point to documented successes at their newest single stream plants. “

This is the fundamental argument Mr McMurtrie repeats in the remainder of his report. He asks the Ann Arbor taxpayers to spend more than $6 million to change from our current dual stream recycling program to single stream recycling. The best reason cited is “documentation” by the company that will greatly profit. Not peer reviewed published literature. Just “trust us” from the people that will profit. His presentation to City Council was supported by a power point presentation prepared by a consultant who will receive a $100,000 sole source contract to help in the transition to the single stream program.

In general, both supporters and opponents of single stream recycling agree on the following four items:

Single stream requires a large initial investment. So far Mr McMurtrie has outlined an investment of $6.5 million.
Single stream increases participation. There is some segment of the population that is not currently recycling who will participate if they do not have to separate the recyclables

Single stream recycling may decrease collection costs.

Single stream recycling increases sorting costs.

The CRI study states that the increased volume and decreased collection costs of single stream recycling is often insufficient to pay for the additional sorting costs. The CRI study asserts that this situation occurs if the recovered material from single stream recycling is lower in value. But it may also occur if the value of the recovered material is simply insufficient to pay for the additional cost of separation.

The CRI study also states that single stream is environmentally undesirable if it lowers the reuse of the recycled material. An important point that CRI stresses is that simply sending material to the MRF is not in itself beneficial to the environment. A benefit to the environment only occurs when the material is reused. The less energy and fewer new raw materials required to replace the original, the better it is for the environment.

Therefore in addition to the above parameters it is important to consider the:

Value of Recycled Materials

Environmental Aspects of Single Stream


This should be reason alone to cancel this program. The city is proposing to cut almost every program in the city budget, including police and fire. But at the same time Council will spend more than $6 million to convert from dual to single stream recycling.

At present only about 35% of the material processed at the Ann Arbor MRF is actually collected in Ann Arbor. The remaining 65% come from the rest of Washtenaw, Windsor, Toledo, Livingston Co., Oakland Co., & Wayne Co.( 6) But it is the Ann Arbor taxpayers alone who are asked to pay for the entire expansion of the facility. One of the “benefits” that was presented to Ann Arbor City Council when they were asked to authorize the additional $6+ million expense is that it would lower the cost of recycling in Saline.

Why should Ann Arbor taxpayers be asked to make an investment to lower the cost of recycling in other communities?.


Many states, such as California, have legislation requiring or encouraging municipalities to

divert more of their solid waste from landfills. The waste management industry promotes single stream recycling as the easiest approach to increase tonnage sent to the MRF. The hypothesized increase in participation is the primary reason behind the current enthusiasm for single stream recycling.

However, Ann Arbor does not have a state mandate to increase tonnage to the MRF. We should be careful not to confuse increased pounds of material per household with increased household participation. Ann Arbor already has a 90% household participation in the residential recycling program, and a recovery rate of approximately 50 percent of residential waste, so it is difficult to imagine much increase in residential recycling. (7)

The Ann Arbor single stream program will probably increase tonnage to the MRF, if for no other reason than more types of plastic will be collected. But there isn't any reason that the additional plastics could not be included in the present dual stream program.

Ann Arbor's commercial recycling program is not nearly as successful as the residential program, so a better solution would be to look for ways to improve the less successful commercial recycling program rather than spend millions modifying a successful one.


One of the major claims for single stream recycling is that it reduces collection costs. Logically it takes less time to empty one container than two.

The primary saving comes because automated collection is commonly used with single stream collection. However, automated collection is neither an essential component nor a limitation of either single or dual stream collection.

Other cities, such as Berkeley California are moving to automated collection from divided carts, while maintaining the benefits of dual stream recycling.(8)

Automated collection, either single or dual stream comes at the expense of a very high initial capital investment: $1,428.000 for carts, and $1,156,000 for new trucks, all at a time when the city has very limited resources and is cutting many other programs.


Single stream recycling will increase the annual sorting costs. If you mix materials together it will cost more to have a contractor separate them later. At present the citizens are not separating the materials as much as just not mixing them. Most of the paper stream originates in living room or office areas. The containers originate in the kitchen. This means that single stream recycling will actually require the additional step of combining the materials.

Single stream recycling will require extensive modifications to the MRF to separate the containers from the paper. The modifications and additional equipment is estimated to cost $3,250,000. Again, this will occur at a time when the city claims it must cut many expenses. The two materials that are easiest to sort and recycle are steel and aluminum. But there is little reason to believe much additional aluminum and steel will be collected from the residents of Ann Arbor. The single stream program will collect the additional plastics, type 4 through 7. But these plastics require additional processing to separate them from the type 1 and 2 plastics before they can be recycled.


The real question is not so much the change in value of the recycled material as it is simply the value of the recycled material and its reuse. The value of recycled materials has a history of volatility. The present market value of recyclable scrap material is low.

An important point to consider is that scrap aluminum has the highest resale value of any of the recycled materials. But Michigan has a bottle/can return law. This captures a very large percentage of aluminum beverage cans. Therefore Michigan municipalities have much less aluminum scrap in their recycle stream compared to municipalities in states without container return laws. This means that the total value of the Michigan recycle stream/ton is relatively low.

The proposed dual stream program will increase plastic recycling. But a monograph from the Oakridge National Laboratory states “Given current technology, social, and institutional constraints, the economic viability of recycling plastic waste is questionable. In many areas of the country, recycling can cost as much as $200 per ton as compared to about $40 per ton for landfill or incineration.”(9)

How have other cities responded? New York City suspended its recycling program in 2002 as a cost reduction measure.(10) It was later reinstated by public pressure, but whether or not it is cost effective is still an open question. In May of 2008 it was estimated it cost NYC a total of $267/ton for solid waste collection and disposal and $284/ton for recycled materials.(11) Solid waste disposal is very expensive for NYC because the waste is exported out of the state for disposal. In contrast, Michigan has a very low disposal cost and consequently imports waste from Canada and other states.

An example of the volatility in the value recyclable materials was reported from Oakridge Tennessee. A former Council member of the City of Oak Ridge Tennessee stated in May 2009 that the MRF operator had to pay $20/bale to have material removed from the site. The material was previously sold for $40/bale. (12)

It is important to remember that the primary advantage of single stream recycling to the Ann Arbor citizen is that the single stream program proposes to collect the additional types of plastics, type 4 through 7. Typically in the past these plastics have been exported to China. (13) However, exports of scrap plastic to China have decreased and there is concern that they may not rebound simply because China may now be generating sufficient scrap plastic internally. As mentioned before, these plastics could also be included in the present dual stream program. 

In his report Mr. McMurtrie states that: “The other factor to consider is the contract terms with the markets. FCR has chosen to develop long term contracts with the markets. While that did not give us as much revenue in the peak days of the market, it also allowed us to continue to market our materials when things bottomed out.” This implies that the resale value of the recycled material should not be a concern for Ann Arbor because the contractor will bear any unexpected costs.

The contract with Resource Recovery Systems Inc. is a 20 year contract from 1995 to 2015. What Mr. McMurtrie does not mention is that the contract was amended in 2006. In 2006 the contractor was given an additional $1.3 million because Resource Recovery Systems did not have adequate funds to meet their obligated expenses. (14) If a contractor can simply ask for more money and receive it, the concept of a long term contract is of far greater value to the contractor than to the city or the taxpayers.


The environment is the primary reason for recycling, yet it is the environmental aspects of single stream recycling that are the most troublesome. The CRI study and others have documented two ways in which single stream recycling can be undesirable. The first is in the use of the recycled material.

The CRI study comments that the best environmental use for a bottle is to reuse it. This requires the least amount of energy and does not require any new raw materials. The next best use is to remelt the bottle and use it to make a new bottle. This requires less energy and less raw material than using all new materials. For many years glass manufactures have always used some recycled glass, called cullet, in the manufacturing process. The least environmentally desirable use is to crush the bottle and use the crushed glass as fill. This may divert disposal from the landfill, but new bottles must then be made from new raw materials.

In the case of Ann Arbor, Mr. McMurtrie states “Currently our glass is marketed as a roadbed material at a landfill.” It is doubtful that sales of the crushed glass for this use pay the collection, sorting and transportation cost. Wouldn't it be better to make an effort to improve the environmental use of the presently collected material before spending more than $6 million to collect more?

The second problem with single stream recycling is that the scrap materials from single stream recycling are more likely to be cross contaminated. This is environmentally undesirable because cross contamination results in secondary discard. A purchaser of the recycled scrap from single stream sources may have to re-sort the material and discard a substantial portion as contaminated or unusable. This means it still goes to the land fill -- after extensive processing and transportation! The original recycling source cannot predict this, but may become aware of it later if the purchaser demands a lower price for the material.

How have other cities responded to the environment aspects of single stream recycling?
Berkeley California recently announced it would retain a dual stream collection, but would move toward automated collection. (15)

Roseville Minnesota, “ . . .a vibrant city known for its strong, safe neighborhoods, excellent business climate, quality schools and outstanding parks . . .  just minutes from downtown Minneapolis...” also decided to retain dual stream recycling.(16)

The University of Colorado at Boulder just completed a one year residential hall pilot program in single stream recycling. After evaluation, the university decided to implement an expanded dual stream approach . Dan Baril, Colorado University's Recycling Program Manager said: “It (the single-stream pilot program) made it easier for people to collect the recyclables, but all of the other negatives outweighed just the few benefits.” (17)

There is another undesirable aspect of the proposed Ann arbor single stream recycling. It will make recycling of toxic materials more difficult. Batteries, florescent lights, used engine oil will no longer be collected at the curb.

Citizens can take them to the drop off center. But the Ann Arbor drop off station now charges a $ 3.00 fee for simply entering the facility, and in many cases there is an additional fee for actually leaving the recyclable objects. Ironically one of the reasons the Ann Arbor drop off station gives as the reason for their new entrance fee is the low resale value of recycled materials. (18)

Charging additional fees is an incentive for citizens to simply discard hazardous waste along with the normal solid waste. Unfortunately this must be expected to increase the amount of toxic materials such as lead and mercury in the landfill. At the very time Ann Arbor is indirectly encouraging discarding of electronic devices in the landfill, the Michigan legislature has passed legislation in an attempt to reduce the amount of electronic waste in Michigan landfills. (19)

There are other negative environmental effects. The city has indicated it may stop the leaf collection program because there are insufficient funds in the solid waste program. Leaf collection benefits the quality of the Huron River. The city will spend millions for a program that is environmentally regressive while cutting one that improves the river water quality.


Single stream recycling will require an investment of over $6 million. Only about 1/3 of the material processed by the MRF originates in Ann Arbor. Therefore the citizens of Ann Arbor are being asked to to pay the capital investment that will benefit the region more than our city.

The resale value of recycled scrap is volatile and low at the present time. It is very difficult to accurately predict if the value of the scrap will pay the additional sorting cost of single stream recycling. In the city's proposed program it is the taxpayers who are taking the capital investment risk. Considering the present economic state of the city it is irresponsible to spend  in excess of $6 million for a major new nonessential program.

Independent studies have concluded that single stream recycling may be environmentally regressive because of the emphasis is on the amount of material collected instead of the reuse of materials

Other cities that have been leaders in recycling, such as Berkeley, California, have chosen to improve their existing dual stream program instead of converting to single stream. Roseville Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis also recently decided to retain dual stream recycling. The University of Colorado conducted a single stream pilot program before deciding to continue their dual stream program.

The City proposes to spend millions on single stream recycling while cutting exiting environmental programs. This has the potential to divert more toxic wastes to the land fill and reduce the water quality of the Huron River.


Ann Arbor should terminate the proposed transition to single stream recycling.

The existing dual stream recycling program should be maintained and improved.

Curbside collection of motor oil, fluorescent light bulbs, and batteries should be continued or resumed.

The leaf collection program should be continued.

Ann Arbor's other existing environmental programs which recycle toxic wastes or collect and compost organic wastes should be continued.


(1) Understanding economic and environmental impacts of single-stream collection systems; Clarissa Morawski ,Container Recycling Institute, December 2009,

(2) Response to: “Understanding Economic and Environmental Impacts of Single Stream Collection Systems by Container Recycling Institute (December 2009) Tom McMurtrie, January 15, 2010

(3) Single Stream Best Practices Manual and Implementation Guide by Susan Kinsella, Conservatree and Richard Gertman, Environmental Planning Consultants January 2007;

(4) Jaakko Pöyry Consulting (JPC) and Skumatz Economic Research Associates, Inc.
(SERA); Single-stream Recycling – Total Cost Analysis. Prepared for the American
Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), January 7, 2004.

(5) Women in Waste an Recycling, Novelty gone; now it is about achieving; Waste and Recycling News February 1, 2010

(6) City of Ann Arbor, Meeting Minutes Commercial Recycling Implementation Committee
Thursday, June 15, 2006

(7) City of Ann Arbor Press Release, November 12, 2008, Bryan Weinert, Solid Waste
Program Coordinator

(8) Berkeley, Calif. Adopts split-cart recycling plan, Waste and Recycling News, February 15, 2010

(9) Plastics Recycling: Economic, Social, and Institutional Issues,

(10), New York City Reneges on Recycling,

(11) Analysis of New York City Department of Sanitation Curbside Recycling and Refuse Costs, Prepared For Natural Resources Defense Council, FINAL REPORT
May 2008 Prepared by DSM Environmental Services Inc.

(12), Trash to treasure? Oak Ridge Recycle Program ,Leonard Abbatiello
May 04, 2009

(13), Do cities, businesses, and society benefit from recycling? LeonardAbbatiello, July 15, 2009,

(14) Memorandum from Sue McCormick to Mayor and Council, April 17, 2006.

(15) (8) above

(16) City of Roseville Recycling Pilot Program Summary. R. W. Beck, Inc. and Dan Krivit and Associates, December 2005

(17) When It Comes to Recycling, Is It Better to Be Single? Marisa McNatt, Earth, February 19th, 2010.

(18) A2 Journal, Heritage Newspapers, January 28, 2010

(19) Electronic Waste Takeback Program, Michigan DNRE,,1607,7-135-3585_4130_18096-208087--,00.html

Friday, February 5, 2010

Farmers Market - Financial Trends

Almost every sector of the city is in fiscal difficulty. The Ann Arbor Farmers Market is not an exception. The following bar chart of the Market expenses illustrates some of the reasons. The graph shows operating expenses only, any large one time expenses such as replacing the lighting are not included

The Market was operated by an independent contractor to the city until about 2000. During this period the Market operating expenses averaged a little over $50,000 and were fairly constant.

After 2000 the Market was transferred to the Parks Department and the cost of operation has steadily increased. The budgeted cost of operation for the current fiscal year, not shown, is over $150,000. The largest single cost is personnel, however the city imposes IT and municipal fees which total about $30,000

The following bar chart shows the Market income. This is the income from operation. The primary source of income is rental to the vendors of the Farmers Market, but income from all use of the facility, such as special rentals is included. Payment the facility receives from the DDA as parking lot rental is not included since the intent here is to compare revenue from operations to the expense of operation.

Clearly the revenue has not increased as fast as expenses. Back when the Market cost $50,000 to operate the income was about $60,000. Last year the cost of operation increased to over $140,000 but revenue was only a bit over $80,000.

A particularly ominous trend is the downward decline in revenue since 2004. Stall fees were increased in 2004. This caused income to initially increase to over $100,000, but it has since decreased. I believe that the number of vendors at the Market decreased. I do not know if this was cause by the increase in stall fees or was a deliberate attempt to reduce crowding.

Stall fees were raised about 20% this year, fiscal 2010. This can only be expected to increase revenue to about $100,000. But fiscal 2010 expenses are budgeted at $150,000. Clearly this trend cannot continue very long. More disturbing, if the revenue increase anticipated for 2010 is followed by a slow decline as it was in 2004 the Market will be much worse off than before.

The data for the bar charts came from the audited financial statements of the city of Ann Arbor. The 2010 fiscal budgeted amounts are from a hand-out sheet distributed at the February 2010 meeting of the Market Commission.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Here is an article that appeared in The Independent. The link to the original article is:

Todmorden's Good life: Introducing Britain's greenest town

'Grow your own' fever has gripped the Pennines community, which is aiming for self-sufficiency
By Joanna Moorhead
Sunday, 29 November 2009

It's an ordinary small town in England, but its residents claim they've discovered the secret that could save the planet. And with world leaders preparing to gather in Copenhagen in just over a week's time to debate how to do just that, the people of Todmorden in the Pennines this week issued an invitation: come to our town and see what we've done.

In under two years, Todmorden has transformed the way it produces its food and the way residents think about the environment. Compared with 18 months ago, a third more townspeople now grow their own veg; almost seven in 10 now buy local produce regularly, and 15 times as many people are keeping chickens.

The town centre is dotted with "help yourself" vegetable gardens; the market groans with local meat and vegetables, and at all eight of the town's schools the pupils eat locally produced meat and vegetables every lunchtime.

"It's a complete turnaround," said Pam Warhurst, a former leader of Calderdale Council, board member of Natural England and the person who masterminded the project – called Incredible Edible – and motivated her friends and neighbours to join in. "Our aim is to make our town entirely self-sufficient in food production by 2018 – and if we can carry on at the same rate as we've done over the past 18 months since we had our first meeting and set this initiative up, we're going to make it."

And the scheme's leaders are now hoping to export their idea: two weeks ago the town held a conference on how to make Incredible Edible-style initiatives work elsewhere, and more than 200 people from across Britain attended.

They heard the story of Todmorden's transformation, starting with what Ms Warhurst calls the "propaganda planting" of vegetables around the town centre 18 months ago. Nick Green, who runs a converted mill that provides workspace for local artists, took on the job of doing the planting. He said he chose the first venue – a disused health centre – because it was in the middle of the town and would attract plenty of attention. "We wanted everyone to see what we were doing, so they could ask questions and ultimately join in," he said. "The old health centre has plenty of land in front, so it was ideal. I didn't ask anyone's permission: I just went there with my spade and my seeds and I planted cabbages and rhubarb."

Incredible Edible was originally funded out of the participants' own pockets. "We were very clear that we didn't want to look at what grants were available and mould our projects to suit them," said Mr Green. "We felt that what would work was to start with the town and what it needed. We'd look for money later on." What the project leaders found was that a lot could be achieved with small amounts of cash. And awards and grants have followed – the latest is the Kerrygold Farmers' Co-operatives Awards last week, when Incredible Edible won the "most inspirational community project" and £1,000.

One of the founding principles of the movement has been to make it as inclusive as possible; in this it differs from transition towns, said Ms Warhurst. "We are working with people who would find transition towns hard to identify with. Our project is all about finding the lowest common denominator, which is food, and then speaking in a language that everyone can understand. Plus we don't have strategies; we don't have visiting speakers; we don't have charters and documents. We just get on with things: this is all about action."

The project has been moulded to fit with where people in Todmorden are and the lives they lead. Many live in homes without gardens, and the local social housing landlord, Pennine Housing, has given out more than 1,000 starter packs of seeds and growing troughs, and invited tenants to cooking and gardening classes. "There are people here who don't own a recipe book and who don't have a garden, but we want to show them that they can still cook and grow vegetables," said Val Morris, the tenant involvement officer for Pennine Housing.

Other town-wide initiatives include a foraging course, on which participants learn how to find food for free, and then how to make preserves, jams and chutneys with their findings – and, more controversially, a workshop on how to kill and pluck your own chickens. "It's not for the faint hearted, but there's something entirely honest and right about killing the chickens you're going to eat," said Lynne Midwinter, a physiotherapist in the town who took her eight-year-old daughter along. "For my daughter, it's entirely normal to see chickens being killed and to help pluck them. "Some parents might think you can't let your kids see that, but what I'd say is, what kind of a life did the chickens your child usually eats have? Our chickens have a good life; they die a quick death, and seeing all that teaches the connection between rearing animals and eating them, which has been lost in much of the Western world today."

Ms Midwinter has also helped persuade local businesses to support Incredible Edible. "One of our early initiatives was to give all the stalls in the covered market a blackboard on which they could advertise any local food they were selling, to encourage them to sell more local food and to shout about it when they did," she said.

"And it's definitely worked. You now see most of the stalls advertising the fact that they're selling local beef and lamb, pork and bread, vegetables and even cheese – the first-ever Todmorden cheese, which is called East Lee, is now produced by the Pextenement Cheese Company at a farm on a hillside above the town."

Another venture has been the planting of apple, pear and plum trees at the town's newly built health centre. "The PCT was all set to grow the usual prickly bushes around it, and we said – hold on a second, why not food?" said Ms Warhurst. "They agreed, and we're going to encourage people to pick their fruit whenever they're passing the doctor's. Apart from giving them fresh fruit, maybe putting the trees there will help people make the connection between healthy eating, and being healthy."

Other projects in the pipeline include a 50m-long polytunnel being set up to grow bigger amounts of food and vegetables on a site just outside the town, a drop-in jam-making centre, a woodwork shop to supply chicken huts and greenhouses, and a vegetable garden at elderly people's care homes in the area which will be designed so that residents will be able to garden and pick vegetables from their wheelchairs.

There are also two herb gardens, one beside the main road and one at the new health centre. "Anyone can pick the herbs. They're a great way to get people enthused about cooking," said Helena Cook, who looks after the gardens.

She is also involved in trying to infect other local communities with the Incredible Edible spirit. "I'm a primary school teacher in a neighbouring town, Littleborough, and I've set up an Incredible Edible growing project with my pupils," she said. "The great thing is that it pulls the parents in as well, and I know some of them have already started growing their own vegetables at home. All of us who are involved in the Todmorden project try to export it to other neighbourhoods we have contact with."

The next project on the horizon is a fish farm that's being set up on land adjacent to the high school. Incredible Edible has applied for a lottery grant of £750,000 to set the farm up, and Ms Warhurst says she's confident their bid will be confirmed soon. There are also plans to offer a diploma in environmental and land-based studies to 14 to 19-year-olds, using local growing and food production initiatives as a resource. "That's fantastic because it's making our school a centre of excellence at teaching this vital skill – and it's kids who go into this kind of work who are going to be most useful to the world of tomorrow," said Ms Warhurst.

"The vital thing about Incredible Edible, and the thing that sets it apart, is that it involves everyone in the town and it's genuinely a grass-roots project. I honestly believe it's a blueprint for every neighbourhood. What we're doing here could easily be rolled out anywhere. It's all about involving people, giving them ownership, letting them realise it can be fun and interesting and that the food is delicious, and giving them space to set up their own ideas and run with them."

Ms Warhurst and the rest of the Incredible Edible team are now looking forward to their Christmas treat – a home-cooked dinner of turkey and all the trimmings in a local church centre, with every ingredient sourced locally. "We're growing the potatoes and sprouts on a special piece of land we call the Christmas dinner patch," said Helena Cook. "All the food, including the turkey, will be from Todmorden.

"There are even crumbs from locally baked bread, and local fruit, in my secret recipe Christmas pudding!"

SJ Clegg, 42


"Three years ago I gave up my job as a designer in London and moved to a converted barn above Todmorden to run a smallholding. So I was already here and keeping my own pigs, sheep, chicken and goats, but Incredible Edible has given a huge boost to what I do because it's made people in the town so much more aware of issues around locally produced food. The eggs I sell, for example, aren't watery like a lot of supermarket eggs: they've got big, orange yolks. And, perhaps most surprising of all, they're cheaper."

Pauline Mullarkey, 39

Mother of three

"I'd never grown a vegetable in my life and I had absolutely no idea how to do it, but when I heard about Incredible Edible from another mum in the school playground I knew it made sense. I started in my own garden by growing vegetables. It was far easier than I'd expected it to be. This year we've had potatoes, leeks, carrots, cabbage, strawberries, onions, garlic, peas, parsnips and sprouts, and I don't spend more than two hours a week in the garden.

"I also keep chickens. I've now got 15, and I'm currently putting together a map of everyone in the town who has them. The eventual aim is for every egg consumed in Todmorden to be a local one. We're working towards producing 30,000 eggs a week, and it's entirely possible that by 2018 our egg production will be at those levels. And people catch on quick – you often hear people in shops asking for Todmorden eggs."

Tony Mulgrew, 46

Catering manager at Todmorden High School

"There was some wasteland beside the school and one day I looked out at it and thought, we could grow the vegetables for the school dinners on that! I asked the governors, they agreed, and we started growing in February 2009. Year 8 and Year 10 pupils helped, and by the summer term we were able to serve tomato soup made from our tomatoes, as well as potatoes, courgettes, runner beans, lettuce, endive and chard.

"The fruit was amazing – we had blueberries, gooseberries – and the strawberries went on for ages. What was really good was the pride the pupils took in seeing the food they'd helped produce on the menu in the school dining room. I also source all our meat from local farms. I'd say that all the meat we serve here is produced within a half-hour's walk from the door. Plenty of top restaurants can't make that boast."

Nick Green, 52

Sculptor and owner of local mill that provides workspace for other artists

"In April 2008 they told me: you're our guerrilla gardener! So off I went and started planting vegetables. I started with rhubarb because the great thing about it is that people recognise it, so they know when it's ready to pick. At that stage I put up a sign inviting people to pick whatever they wanted to take home. And people did. We wanted to show that it's a project for anyone, that it's about ownership for the whole community.

"I've now got lots of food growing all over Todmorden – chard and kale as well as rhubarb – and we've recruited people from the mental health inclusion scheme to help with the planting. That's been a good move because people with mental health problems appreciate the chance to do meaningful work, and what could be more meaningful than growing food for the whole community?"

Monday, January 25, 2010

Private Public Partnerships

There are many comments on the blogs that indicate the financing of many Ann Arbor development projects are misunderstood. These are the comments of the nature:

"The developer is willing to risk his money to build something. The citizens should welcome this because the city will get more tax revenue”
This may be how projects were financed many years ago, but it is not the way most of the current Arbor projects are proposed. Today, the developer typically has very little of his own money invested in the project. Therefore the primary challenge is to get the project funded. In order to get funding the developer needs an approved project.

The first step is to form an LLC for the specific project. This requires some legal support time and it should not be a surprise that many developers are from the legal profession rather than construction. Each project is done as a separate legal entity so if there is an injury, or lawsuit, the bankruptcy of this LLC will not affect the other assets of the developer.

The second step to create some concept drawings. The developer may have to pay for these or it may be possible to get someone to do the work for the promise that they will be paid to do all of the necessary detail work later if the project is built.

Now the developer's work begins. The developer must have the stamina to endure a great many meetings with city staff and Council members. He must convince them that his is a great project and that the city should provide funding. The city funding can take many forms. The developer may ask that the city build a parking structure that serves as the foundation for his building. (First and Washington and the Library Lot) He may ask that the city issue bonds to pay for part of his building or an associated one. (The hotel proposals for the Library lot.) Maybe the city needs to provide street and sewer modifications to handle the increased load of the project. The DDA estimates that $5.3 million of cost of the underground parking structure is to support the development over the parking.

If the city agrees, the developer still needs to find the rest of the funding for the project. But, say, the city has agreed to fund 1/3 of a $50 million project, now the developer only needs to find $33 million more. The amount of the investment and the risk is less than if the entire $50 million were from private investment, so this becomes much easier.

When the developer gets funding one of the first things he does is make a cash draw to pay his development fee. At this point the developer has made money, or at least covered his cost. Present day private-public development projects are usually structured so that the developer makes money before the project is built. The developer would prefer that the project succeed, but once the project is funded the developer will not lose a substantial amount even if the project fails.

The private investors? If their investment is $33million for a project that costs $50 million to build, the project only has to make the normal return on a $33 million investment project to make these investors happy.

The city? The way the agreements are usually structured the city issues bonds and uses the taxes from the building to repay the bonds. But the city bonds are backed by all the taxes of the City not just the taxes from the developer's project. If the project fails and does not generate sufficient taxes to repay the bonds the city must repay them from other taxes.

And if the project succeeds? Then all the taxes for the next 25 to 35 years will go to pay the bonds and interest. The city will not receive any additional revenue during this time. Yet the city will provide police, fire protection, and other services such as road maintenance. This means that there will be proportionately less money to provide service to the regular taxpayers.

A US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform concluded that:
"The public justification for public financing, including construction financing with tax exempt bonds, is that this is an investment that brings jobs and consumers to a city’s downtown. Academic research on the value to economic development, however, has universally concluded that sports stadiums, convention centers and hotels do not increase economic activity in downtown areas."
This is consistent with my experience. I have been to many conferences, but the purpose is to learn something, or to present your information and leave, not to party. Most of the time is spent at the hotel or at the conference. There are some junket or boondoggle conferences but they are in Las Vegas, Orlando, Hawaii etc. I cannot see Ann Arbor competing as a destination for these. I am not sure we would want to.

Who wins, besides the developer? Really very few. The public-private development projects are lose-lose propositions for the citizen taxpayer. If the project is successful we lose a little, if it it fails we lose big.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sierra Club Statement to Council on the FITS Parking Structure

Good Evening Mayor Hieftje, members of Council, City Administration.

I appear before you tonight as a member of the Executive Committee of the Huron Valley Group of the Sierra Club representing 3000 members in the area.

At our December 14, 2009 meeting we passed a resolution in opposition to recent city actions concerning Fuller Park and the proposed Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station.

We are outraged over the notion that the city, very recently after passionately assuring the public that the city’s parkland would never be sold to outside interests without a vote of its citizens, would turn right around and spend hundreds of thousands of its dollars and study a proposed permanent car structure to be built ON CITY PARKLAND to be leased by the university on a long-term basis.

Very clearly this violates the spirit if not the fine print legal definition of the city’s ordinances. It is a breach of trust by the city with its citizens to protect and maintain its parks for present and future generations to enjoy, and it establishes a terrible precedent.

Granted, the current site, a portion of what is currently Fuller Park south of Geddes Road west of the Huron River Bank, had been leased to the university for surface car spaces – with an agreement that lease moneys would go to City Parks and Recreation operations.

The use of public lands designated as parks should be dedicated exclusively for city parks use, not for other purposes.

The use of parkland, for well, parking, with all due respect ladies and gentlemen, is not really a parks and recreation use. Yes, parking exists at park facilities, but parkland for the sake of parking is another matter. Let’s get real here.

We can smile at that but we have a very serious issue.

Any disposal of parkland by the city either by sale, reassignment of purpose, or lease must come with the consent of a vote by the citizens, not council

Furthermore, we are also deeply angered by the city spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultant fees to study building a car structure on city parkland while city administrators threaten closure of existing park facilities on the basis of lack of funds.

We also question if the city made any real efforts with the university in obtaining this arrangement to build a permanent car structure to pursue a potential land swap for such a massive project, if the revenues for parks and recreations operations was even discussed, or whether a perceived convenience by city officials trumped due diligence in pursuing this agreement with the university. Something of this nature really required a more public process than what was apparently conducted here.

It is our parks that make Ann Arbor that special place for everyone, a value that can’t be quantified. It is the inherent responsibility of the city to take care of its parks for future generations.

I should note that the Sierra Club is certainly supportive of many efforts, private and public to encourage non-automobile transit. I also note that this current proposal contains little in the way of concrete plans for non-automobile transit – its focus is on the 900-car parking structure, with most of the parking going to University staff parking and only approximately 200 spaces for a proposed train station.

We DO NOT approve any disposal of existing city parkland, whatever the motivation or goal, either by sale, lease or reassignment without a public vote and will fight any present and future efforts to use Ann Arbor city parks and their assets other than for the purposes for which they were entrusted by citizens to the city to look out for.

On behalf of the Sierra Club I thank you for your time and strongly urge you to reconsider these actions to destroy city park infrastructure.

James D’Amour
2771 Maplewood Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48104