Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Turn of the Eww

The word of the day is "compost."

Here in the Pottstown area, the subject has arisen as the result of an attempt by the Township of Lower Pottsgrove to try and (gasp!) work together with surrounding townships and create one facility everyone can use instead of five or ten.

But the price tag is a little high -- $1.2 million to be exact.

And as anyone who has spent more than six minutes watching government knows, the first estimate is always low.

But that shouldn't be enough to scare people off right away.

Before dismissing this out of hand, we should ask, what is the cost of NOT putting this into place?

For Pottstown, the cost is currently $50,000 a year, and could rise. That's because the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is withholding grant money the borough earned through its recycling efforts.

The money, which would be used to help reduce the cost of trash pick-up, an ever-volatile subject in Pottstown's council chambers, is being withheld because the borough does not have a "drop-off" area for people to compost their leaves and yard waste.

Despite the borough's extensive leaf pick-up program in the fall, the state also requires a drop-off area, presumably of other towns as well.

So, in classic "regional" thinking style, Lower Pottsgrove is proposing one that serves for several towns, theorizing, correctly in my view, that state grant programs will look more favorably on cooperative efforts among several towns.

What the state is obviously trying to do is to prolong the life of Pennsylvania's many landfills by keeping out of them things that can be reused or dealt with in some other way than burying them and leaving them for future generations to manage.

Encouraging recycling is obviously one way to do this, and composting is another.

Remember that anytime you keep things off the trash truck and out of the landfill, you're helping to keep your tipping costs down.

And whether you pay for that through a quarterly municipal bill, as happens in Pottstown, or hire your own hauler, as happens in Upper Pottsgrove, the savings are real and long-term.

As it is conceived, anyone who lives in a town that participates would be able to use the Lower Pottsgrove facility for free. Those from outside any of those towns would pay a fee. Further, the compost the facility generated could be sold to offset some costs, although it would be free to residents of the participating towns.

When discussing the issue with my editor, whose blog is called The Daily Overload, she said she got hold of some compost from Birdsboro this year and "I've never had plants that I planted myself in pots grow so well."

(While we're in the process of shamelessly cross-promoting each other's blog, I would be remiss if I did not mention here that The Mercury's Blog Central also has its own gardening blogger, "Garden Gal," written by the indomitable Kim Toth. Perhaps she will regale us one day about the benefits of compost.)

As for me, any doubt I might have had about the need for such a nearby composting facility (I didn't have any really), evaporated over the last two days when I began to tackle a long-overdue task in my back yard.

We have a nice thick hedge between my yard and my neighbors to the east, a hedge of which I am quite fond. For as fond as I am of my neighbors to the east, I tend to agree with Robert Frost on the subject of neighbors. Yards are close on each other in Pottstown and even the illusion of privacy is not something to lightly disregard.

Besides, we've cut a little door through it for my son and the kids next door to use, so it adds a kind of "secret garden" quality to the yard, a yard that all too often one must struggle to use the word "garden" to describe.

Anyhow, when I trimmed said hedge this spring, I nearly killed myself, standing on top of my eight-foot ladder, leaning way out to trim the top as it is rather thick.

Since then, it has grown rather wild and I have been reluctant to risk my life again. It only took me two months to realize that the best way to keep the hedge trimmer's teeth from embedding themselves in my arm, is to cut the hedge down to the same height as the top of the ladder. Who says old dogs can't learn new tricks? (Please not for the record that I resisted the temptation to make a pun here about "heding my bets.)

I've finished my side and will do the neighbors' side Friday and let me tell you, I have roughly ten huge black yard bags piled up already.

It seems a shame to send them off to Pioneer Crossing Landfill when they could be turned into good dirt if only I had a place to drop them off. The former owners of my house did their own composting but my wife and I are too concerned about what we might attract with such an operation to follow their example.

Which is the point of course. Not everyone has the room, time or energy to continually turn the clippings and leaves as is necessary to make decent compost.

My mother lives out in New Mexico where good dirt is hard to find and although she is a die-hard composter, she does not have the strength to turn it in the winter, when it freezes solid. (Mom only just figured out how to find my blog and, like a trooper, she read them all so of course I have to give her a shout-out.)

But what is that convenience worth? Or, more importantly, how do you pay for it.
Which brings us to the point Borough Councilman Stephen Toroney made about how each municipality's share will be determined. Currently, Lower Pottsgrove has proposed charging based on population, which would have Pottstown paying nearly twice as much as everyone else.

Toroney argues a legitimate point, that the shares should be based on tonnage. My hedge clippings aside, It's hard to argue that a 30-foot-wide yard in Pottstown, a yard whose grass I can cut in 12 minutes with my manual mower, will produce the same volume of clippings, leaves and trimmings as your average suburban subdivision home in North Coventry or New Hanover where you need a John Deere just to get from one side to the other.

I understand the Catch-22 however.

How do you determine tonnage when you do not yet have a facility at which that tonnage can be accepted and weighed?

Nevertheless, I am encouraged by the borough's decision to continue the talks and hope something can be worked out.

In the past, my attempts to do the right thing and have my clippings recycled has required me to drive to Hetrick Gardens Landscapers, which has a giant pile behinds its Swamp Pike business and will take accept your clippings for composting.

A place a little closer to home, and one whose performance helps to lower my trash bill, would definitely be a step in the right direction.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Lend a Hand

Recently, I'll admit, I have been blogging about environmental matters that affect the planet, the world, the nation, but could not be said to directly affect Pottstown and its environs.

But as any good tree-hugger knows, the mantra of environmentalism is to "think globally and act locally."

(Personally, I've always been fond of a little ego-centric modification, "think golbally, report locally."

Anyway, I think during the past dozen posts or so, we've covered the "think globally" part, so I wanted to alert all nine of my regular readers to an opportunity to act locally.

To paraphrase Paul Revere, one is by land and one is by sea.
The first is an annual event, when they can muster enough volunteers.

If you’ve ever wondered what happens to trash after its thrown into the Schuylkill River, the answer is, it usually ends up washed up along the shoreline.

And then, if the circumstances are right, the folks from the Greater Pottstown Watershed Alliance climb into their canoes and clean it up.

That will happen next Saturday, Aug. 2, when a group of volunteers — anyone reading this article is invited — will meet at the boat ramp in North Coventry, just downstream of the South Hanover Street bridge, to start grabbing all the trash and tires they can fit into their boats.

All boats that can navigate to there are welcome to join the fun.

As organizer Bill Cannon notes, “we always run out of space in the boats before we run out of trash.”

Meet at the boat ramp at 8 a.m. and the group plans to move downstream to the boat ramp at Tow Path Park in East Coventry and be finished by 1 p.m.

If you can’t participate on the water, you can help by shuttling paddlers back to the North Coventry ramp or by helping empty the boats at Tow Path when the clean up is complete.

If you're more of a land-lubber, you can choose a different activity the same day, the regular maintenance work on the portion of the Schuylkill River Trail known as the Thun Trail.

That same Saturday, starting around 9 a.m., the Schuylkill River Greenway Association Trailkeepers and the Berks County Bicycle Club will work on tree and brush cutting, litter pickup and the installation of a bollard, and the paintaing of said bollard.

(A "bollard," in case you're wondering, is a fancy planning professional word for metal post.)

Volnteers can meet at the trail head at Morlatton Village, located on the eastern end of Old Philadelphia Pike in Amity. You can show up at any time to help out

If it rains, the work will occur Aug. 9. If you want to know if its raining hard enough to postpone, call Greg Marshall at 610-780-3195.

I won't preach here about how important this kind of work is, because those who know already do it, and those who don't are less likely to start.

I can say as someone who has ridden on the trail towards Birdsboro, that I appreciate it.

That trail, by the way, just got a whole lot longer.

A small section of trail in Birdsboro, from Route 82 to Armorcast Road, will be officially opened Friday by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, which oversees the trail and which welcomes Michael DeBerardinis, Pennsylvania's secretary of Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, as their special guest.

The ribbon cutting takes place at 11:30 a.m. if you're in to that sort of thing.

The .68-mile section finalizes the link between Pottstown and Reading, part of which runs on Old Schuylkill Road to Route 724 for the section between Gibraltar and Birdsboro.

The rest of the trail, however, is off-road on old sections of abandoned railroad lines, making it not only through some lovely landscapes, including many views of the river, but also wonderfully flat for those tree-huggers, such as myself, who have hugged as many lagers as they have tree trunks.

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