Experimental program repairing Vermont's Irene damage with compost

Friday September 14, 2012

JAMAICA -- If Vermont is really going to move ahead with an ambitious plan to cut down on its solid waste then the state is gong to have to find a way to use all of the compost it is going to produce.

Windham Solid Waste Management District Executive Director Bob Spencer thinks he may have a plan.

Spencer was in Jamaica Thursday overseeing a project that included blowing compost on to a washed out hillside over the Wardsboro Brook.

The steep bank washed out during Tropical Storm Irene and after making a pitch to the Jamaica Selectboard, the board decided to take part in the experimental program.

Using compost to rebuild the hillside is cheaper, in the long run, than using the traditional plastic silt fence.

The compost is very good at retaining moisture and it has a better chance of encouraging natural growth, which will aid in the long term environmental health of the rebuilt area.

"If Vermont is going to promote organic waste recycling we are going to have to find a commercial market for it," Spencer said. "This is a demo site to see how this works."

The project in Jamaica along Old Route 8 is using about 60 cubic yards of composted horse manure, yard waste and wood chips which was made at Skip Baldwin's excavation facility in Vernon.

Spencer, who is a member of the Composting Association of Vermont, first brought the idea up with Lou Bruso, a member of the Jamaica Selectboard and the town's representative on the Windham Solid Waste Management District board.

Jamaica had more than its share of projects after Irene ripped through town last year.

The steep hillside on Old Route 8 was particularly challenging because FEMA said it would not pay for the reconstruction work.

Spencer said not only would he be willing to use the site for a pilot project for the compost work, but a $7,000 grant from Green Mountain Coffee Roaster would cover most of the work.

Bruso said the rest of the board enthusiastically supported the proposal.

"We're still only about half way done with all of the work we have from Irene," Bruso said Thursday at the work site. "Bob was looking for a test site and we have plenty of those in Jamaica."

The work includes securing thick bags, or socks, filled with wood chips to stabilize the bank.

A company then blows the compost, which is mixed with fertilizer and grass seed, onto the hill.

If the weather cooperates, and rain falls, then the compost and seed will grow into a firm field that will be better equipped to handle future washouts.

"People have been a little slow to come around to it, but it works very well," said Jack Eaton, who is chief of technical support for Certified Erosion Control of Goffstown, N.H., the company that is overseeing the project. "It's a little more expensive to install, and that scares some people away, but when you track the overall cost over time it is cheaper."

The Vermont Legislature this year passed a new law that requires all municipalities to recycle bottles, cans and paper, and which forces them to compost food waste by 2020.

Spencer said as the tons of food waste are diverted from the landfill, it is going to be important to find a good use of the compost as it is produced across the state.

"As far as we can see this is cheaper, and it works better than traditional methods," Spencer said. "We're just going to have to convince more people that this is the way to go."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279. Follow Howard @HowardReformer.


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