ARPA money could build Baldwin recycling center

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BAY MINETTE – Federal COVID-19 relief money could help bring a county recycling center to Baldwin under plans approved by the County Commission on Tuesday. The commission voted to use $3.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to build the center at the Magnolia Landfill site in Summerdale. The commission had voted in March to seek funding for the project through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act program. The GOMESA program uses money from offshore oil and gas revenue for Gulf Coast environmental projects. Commissioners said Tuesday that a recycling center might not be eligible for those funds. “If we apply for this GOMESA money and it does not go anywhere, we’re putting ourselves further and further back from getting this recycling facility,” Commissioner Charles “Skip” Gruber said. Baldwin County and area municipalities now have to send recyclable materials, such as cardboard, plastic, paper and aluminum, outside the county to be processed. The nearest facility is the Emerald Coast Utility Authority in Escambia County, Fla. The cost of that service has fluctuated. At a recent Fairhope City Council work session, officials said the city now receives $5 a ton for that material. In the past, Fairhope has had to pay as much as $45 a ton. Under a new contract proposed by ECUA, Fairhope would pay $15 a ton. Commissioner Billie Jo Underwood said the county needs its own recycling center as soon as possible. “We can’t get started fast enough, in my opinion,” she said. Sherry Lea Bloodworth-Botop, county public information officer, said the facility could be completed within 18 months. Underwood said the American Rescue Plan Act would help provide money to get the project started. “We’ve got ARPA monies that can be used for that,” Underwood said. “This is something for the recycle thing and I think it’s wise to go ahead and ship that because we need to get moving on that.” County officials had discussed the recycling center in early February 2020 before the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Baldwin County. The center would be a single stream “material recovery facility,” or MRF. The facility would serve about 60,000 households in unincorporated areas of Baldwin County as well as Fairhope, Daphne, Foley and other municipalities, according to county reports. Collection in unincorporated areas would be made at 31 drop-off locations as well as curbside collections in some incorporated locations. The material would be taken to the Magnolia Landfill facility where it would be sorted using a combination of automated and manual procedures. The center would be able to process 2.5 tons an hour at first with the goal of processing up to eight tons an hour after the facility reaches full capacity. The sorted recyclable material would be baled and taken to processing plants for sale. The leftover material would be disposed of in the landfill. Officials said Tuesday that the use of the ARPA money could allow the county to use GOMESA money for other purposes, including a detention site for stormwater. County Engineer Joey Nunnally said that site could help reduce the amount of silt running into streams in south Baldwin. “There’s a county-owned dirt pit next to a few other dirt pits that are in close proximity of the Magnolia River and obviously we know that the Magnolia River has some problems, especially from (Hurricane) Sally and some stuff going on there, lots of development around it, so some regional detention in that area would be a very good thing in our mind,” Nunnally told commissioners. He said a study by Volkert Engineering showed that using the county property and buying nearby private dirt pits that are no longer used could allow the county to construct a wetlands area that would reduce siltation. It’s all about water quality, so we think it would be a perfect project that they would like to have. Officials said the detention site project that improved water quality would have a better chance of being approved for GOMESA funding. “I was going over the applications of what the use was going to be for and it was mostly all coastal wetlands,” Gruber said.