A bucket of compost awaits pickup by Juneau Composts on Douglas in December of 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

A bucket of compost awaits pickup by Juneau Composts on Douglas in December of 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

My Turn: City’s proposed composting program threatens to push out longtime private operator

As the owner of Juneau Composts (JC), I would like to offer some comments about CBJ’s proposed compost program. At the recent Nov. 2 community meeting about composting sponsored by the Juneau Commission on Sustainability, every single question asked by the audience was about why the city was proceeding with its own project from scratch rather than uplifting Juneau Composts.

Staff and Assembly members have repeated over the past year that CBJ and Juneau Composts are working together. We are not. Most people would consider “working together” to mean collaboration for mutual benefit, an MOU, or a contract of some kind. We have had conversations: that is very different.

The community should know what is at stake here: JC is at risk of being pushed out of business. I have been trying to ensure JC has a future that is not the mere manual labor for a program under CBJ’s total discretion, but my and my customer’s efforts have seemed to fall short.

Why should the community care if JC is ousted? Because it has done the work of educating the community on landfill diversion and organic gardening. It has done the work to provide a top-notch curbside collection and drop-off service. It has done the work to build and operate a modest yet mighty facility that operates year-round to produce high-quality compost. It has done all the work.

And now that it’s been proven that composting can work in a rainforest with bears, proven that composting is economically viable, and proven that composting can scale in our community, the city has finally realized the value of composting. So now they will be putting our job out for hire via an RFP. Is that the way you want to see small pioneering businesses treated? Does CBJ know better than JC does about running a compost facility, orchestrating hauling logistics and creating nop-notch garden products? No.

CBJ has many problems to solve, without branching out into the compost industry. That is JC’s expertise. We are not asking for a financial handout from CBJ. We are merely asking them to let us do our job and continue to grow without the looming uncertainty of a city-designed compost program. Our ask is that CBJ issue a non-monetary RFP to establish a compost partner now (not in several years when the new facility is completed, as they are proposing).

The compost partner (hopefully JC) and CBJ would design the facility together with engineers. If the RFP is not issued soon, JC will not be able to continue its growth. We would be stuck in a multi-year limbo of waiting to see if we win the contract or are ousted. No business could survive a limbo like that.

So let’s say CBJ entertains the idea of an RFP now. What does the contract look like? The parameters of the contract to run the facility could be goal-based instead of prescriptive. For example, “divert X million pounds a year from the landfill,” instead of “do A, B, C in x, y, z ways.” The contractor would be required to meet the goals of landfill diversion and remain in compliance with DEC regulations, and that is it. Everyone wins.

CBJ is not required to design a collection or processing program, which is outside their expertise. They don’t have to carve out a budget for operational expenses with taxpayer dollars. The compost program would be user-fee funded and completely run by the contractor. The contractor could pay a fee to lease the facility. If the contractor does not increase landfill diversion rates year over year, an RFP can be issued for a new contractor. Plain and simple. This is a triple-win scenario for CBJ, citizens and small business.

Juneau Composts wants to continue investing in equipment and expanding services. We have composted over 1.8 million pounds of food scraps, mostly in the last two years, and we have every intention of getting to 10 million. Please let us carry our community into the future. The city’s project is in a 30-day comment period with the EPA. Comments may be sent to calabro.domenic@epa.gov and BoroughAssembly@juneau.gov

• Lisa Daugherty has spent 12 years educating the community on composting and seven years physically composting food scraps and yard debris. She is the founder of Juneau Composts, the only commercial compost service in town.

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