City Council this week heard of plans for a new eco-friendly trash facility planned for Northeast Philadelphia that officials said would guarantee about $5 million a year in business for minority- and women-owned firms.
That figure hinges on Council’s approval of a new waste disposal contract that features the construction of a plant that would convert the city’s trash into fuel. It will be one of only two such plants in the nation.
“We’re going to see many benefits from this new deal,” Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson told Council. “We were in competition with other cities for this innovation.”
Members learned of the plans for the $22 million facility Wednesday during hearings on two bills that give contracts worth $256 million over the next four years to Waste Management and Covanta 4 Recovery for hauling and getting rid of the city’s trash. Tolson said that represented a savings of about $7 million a year. In addition, she projected that the plant would generate about $1.25 million annually in tax revenue.
The plant, which is expected to be built later this year in the Northeast, harvests recyclables from the city’s 143,000 tons of trash then turns the remaining solids into fuel pellets that can replace coal at chemical manufacturing plants, cement kilns and electric generation plants.
“Now instead of that trash going to a landfill it will be going to a waste to energy facility, or this spec fuel plant,” she said. “Under these contracts no pre-processed waste will be landfilled.”
According to Tolson, the plant, which will be owned by Waste Management, would process 500 to 1,200 tons of trash a day, and produce enough fuel to generate power for 150,000 homes. It would also create 25 full-time jobs, most of them skilled jobs like equipment operator and plant operator.
Residue created by the making of the pellets would go to landfills.
The gain for minority businesses would come in hauling the trash, Tolson said, adding that the Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity had signed off on the deal.
Both companies have agreed to give their hauling contracts to minority- or women-owned firms, specified in the contracts, but not yet named publicly. That would provide $5 million a year in business for those firms — which would collect trash and haul the waste to other facilities.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown asked how the city verified that participation rate. Tolson replied that the OEO handled the verification, again noting that it has signed off on the plan.
Waste Management has a test facility in San Antonio, Texas, and the company’ s vice president for the mid-Atlantic region, Tara Hemmer, said the company is creating a market for the fuel, noting that all of the pellets created in Texas had been sold.
Tolson extolled the plans as “a major step in the greening of our city.”
A vote on the proposal is expected next month.
Councilman Jim Kenney asked if any of the jobs at the plant could be given to ex-offenders.
Hemmer said Waste Management would be open to the idea, but noted that most of the jobs were skilled positions requiring some sort of training.
“It’s really very specialized equipment,” Hemmer said. “They’re higher paying, skilled jobs with a minimal number of entry level positions.”
Overall, the contracts would not create any new jobs for the city, because the new deal eliminates a contract with a company called Republic that operates two trash facilities that currently employ about 25 people.
Annual anti-litter effort set for April 14
The “UnLitter” campaign gets a much-needed boost when the Streets Department kicks off its fifth annual “Spring Cleanup” on Saturday, April 14.
Neighborhoods citywide will participate in the event, hailed as the largest urban cleanup in the nation, with more than 250 projects and 12,000 volunteers. To help the effort, Ace hardware and chemical giant Dow will donate 1,000 gallons of paint — equivalent to a $40,000 donation - to residents during a kick-off press conference and rally on Tuesday at the City of Philadelphia Sanitation Warehouse, 3033 S. 63rd Street.
This effort continues a recent trend by the city to clean up its image as a dirty, trash-strewn metropolis. Last month, the city joined with Philadelphia More Beautiful for its annual block captain rally and to kick off this year’s cleaning season, which officially began on March 31.
The city also implemented a “Recycling Rewards Sweepstakes,” earlier this month, as way to entice residents to take part in the recycling program, which runs through June 30. Through the sweepstakes, entrants will have the opportunity to win one of three main prizes — a $100 Target gift card, a year’s supply of monthly Septa TransPasses and free groceries for a year — and are allowed 30 chances to win.
“This is a win-win opportunity for all Philadelphia residents. By participating, not only can you be rewarded for reducing your trash and increasing your recycling but now those same actions allow you an opportunity to win incredible prizes,” said Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson. “And there are multiple actions that you can do to win the prizes.”
Residents willing to sign up for the program can register online at www.PhillyRecyclingPays.com, and that alone serves as one of the qualifying for the rewards; the other ways to win are by recommending a friend to sign up online and by completing several online “green” activities.
Recyclebank, a leading proponent of the Green movement with offices in the States and London, is an
“At Recyclebank, we are proud to partner with the City of Philadelphia and the Streets Department to encourage everyone in the community to be more eco-conscious through the Philadelphia Recycling Rewards Sweepstakes,” said Denise Diorio McVeigh, Philadelphia Account Manager at Recyclebank. “The success of Philadelphia’s longstanding partnership with Recyclebank exemplifies the collective impact we can have in our communities by taking small, everyday green actions — all while earning great rewards from your favorite local and national businesses.”
According to the streets department, every ton of waste diverted from landfills can save the city $70, and the rewards program — a sort of “pay for performance” model — and Philadelphia is the only major city to reward its residents for recycling.
Other sponsors are eager to pitch in, either with offering rewards or directly assisting with the cleanup.
“We pride ourselves in making decisions that benefit the communities we serve and our environment,” said Jeffrey Brown, President and CEO of Brown’s Super Stores, Inc. and proprietor of the independently-owned ShopRite that serves as sort of unofficial headquarters for the cleanup effort. “Our partnership with Recyclebank and the Philadelphia Streets Department, over many years, has contributed to our overall environmental sustainability efforts, while also benefiting the customers we serve with extra ShopRite savings.”
Labor committee to hold fire safety hearings
As its spring session winds down, City Council on Thursday tackled a variety of issues from authorizing hearings on the recent deaths of two firefighters to approving plans for a trash-to-energy plant.
Council met to begin clearing its calendar as it prepares to recess for the summer. As it dealt with a number of items, a much larger one — the Added Value Initiative property assessment — was also on the agenda Thursday. The last scheduled meeting for this session is June 21.
Members unanimously agreed that the Labor Committee should hold fire safety and administration hearings in the wake of the deaths of firefighters Robert Neary and Daniel Sweeney, who died in April while battling a warehouse fire in Kensington.
“The hearings are intended to help prevent future tragedies,” said Councilman Jim Kenney, who proposed the hearings.
“It’s not necessarily to cast blame on anyone, but to review all the information … so we can prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again,” said Kenney.
Neary and Sweeney, both members of Engine 10, Ladder 7, died April 9 while battling a five-alarm fire at an abandoned warehouse at York and Jasper streets.
They were the first firefighters to die in the line of duty in the city in six years.
Also at Thursday’s Council meeting, opposition emerged to plans to build a plant that will produce energy in the form of fuel pellets made from the city’s garbage.
Citing concerns that the plant would simply burn more trash than it would turn into fuel pellets, Brady Russell, with Clear Water Action, asked Council to delay a vote for two months.
“The contracts were never reviewed by the solid waste review committee,” Russell said, reeling off a list of concerns that centered on fears that the plant would burn most of the waste. “From the green perspective, it’s only greener if the green you’re talking about is money.”
The cost to incinerate is less that landfilling, he said, but more harmful to the environment.
“In terms of global warming, it does more harm on balance,” Russell said.
The local Sierra Club also objected to plans for the plant.
Plans are to build the $22 million plant this summer in the Northeast. It will harvest recyclables from the city’s 143,000 tons of trash, then turn the remaining solids into fuel pellets that can replace coal at chemical manufacturing plants, cement kilns and electric generation plants.
Despite the protest, Council approved two bills giving contracts worth $256 million over the next four years to Waste Management and Covanta 4 Recovery for hauling and getting rid of the city’s trash. According to Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson, the two contracts would save the city about $7 million a year. In addition, she projected that the plant would generate about $1.25 million annually in tax revenue.
Council also heard from City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who asked members to approve raises for poll workers. Council authorized hearings on how poll workers are paid.
Singer told Council that Philadelphia’s polls workers’ pay was equal to those in Memphis. She asked that Council raise their pay to prevailing wage.
“Our poll workers are defending democracy,” she said. “We ask a lot of them, and they have an added responsibility — in November they will have to enforce the voter ID law … It’s a big election. And, we expect there will be a lot attention on Philadelphia and how we conduct our elections.”
Hoping to take a swipe at high unemployment among the city’s youth, Mayor Michael Nutter on Monday unveiled a program intended get less educated young people the skills they need to land a job.
“I worry about each and every one of you every day, whether I know your name or not, that’s why we created this program,” Nutter said to room full of young adults, mostly African-American men, as he announced details of the plan. “I believe in you.”
The mayor and Streets Commissioner Clarena Tolson launched the $1.46 million program Monday morning at People for People in North Philadelphia. It will be administered by the Streets Department.
Called Philly Future Track, it is open to 130 young people who are unemployed and not enrolled in college or any other higher education program. They will take part in a six-month, two-part work skills program.
“You will set a standard for those that will come behind you,” Tolson said, noting that many participants had troubled pasts and challenging backgrounds. “The expectations for all of you are great. The expectation is that through this program you will become great citizens of the City of Philadelphia. You’re going to lead by your example.”
The program aims at two of the most common problems that keep Philadelphia young people from getting jobs — lack of experience and lack of basic job skills.
Three days a week participants will work for the Streets Department in paid positions performing a variety of “beautification” and other tasks with the city and community groups. That will provide on-the-job experience for their resumes.
“Some of the specific work tasks will include: conducting beautification projects, environmental stewardship tasks, cleaning our alleyways and locations to improve public safety in our communities, maintaining litter free zones, conducting litter index evaluations,” said the mayor.
Two days a week they will be in a classroom where they will learn job readiness skills.
“You will be attending regular educational and training sessions … to improve your job prospects for the future,” Nutter said. “We’re going to put you to work. We’re going to get you some skills.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, youth unemployment nationally was more than double that of adults.
The overall unemployment rate has hovered near 7.8 percent since September. For African Americans it has been around 14 percent for that same period.
The latest national figures on youth unemployment, released in July, showed unemployment for people between the ages of 16 and 24 at 17.1 percent. The rate was higher for men than for women, roughly 17.9 percent of men were unemployed compared to 16.2 percent for women.
In Philadelphia the overall youth unemployment rate was 16.2 percent.
For Black youth, the statistics were even more grim.
Nationally, the unemployment rate for Black youth was 28.6 percent compared to 14.9 percent for whites. There was no breakdown by ethnic background for Philadelphia.
Nutter said he has very personal stake in the problem.
“The number one thing I hear, every day, when I step out of a car, when I come out of City Hall, when I go to events, is ‘Mayor, I need a job.’ Well, today you’re going to start working,” he said, adding that the program was developed because he was tired of not having an answer and told his staff that, “The next time I roll up somewhere and see half a dozen guys standing on the corner … I want to be able to jump out of my car and say ‘Who on this corner wants to work today?’ That’s what this is about.”
Nutter promised to be at the graduation of the inaugural class in six months.
“Learn as much as you can. Make connections, and quite frankly — give a little love back to the community that loves you,” he said.
According to Streets Department officials, several slots remain in the first class. For more information check the Web at www.philadelphiastreets.com/future-track.aspx.
“Your community needs you,” said Nutter. “Our quality of life will improve as a result of your work.”
Perhaps sensing blowback from stressed homeowners and a legislative body in City Council that usually is the first to hear from irate residents, The Philadelphia Department of Revenue has instituted a real estate tax forgiveness program for low-income seniors.
That the revenue department — and not the Office of Property Assessment — is handling this program is telling. OPA is the department that first conjured the Actual Value Initiative formula of reassessing property taxes and subsequently sent out real estate tax bills that have shocked a number of residents. And although those real estate tax bills won’t be due until next year, it has still sent a shiver through homeowners who are already saddled with rising taxes.
According to the city, the revenue department will freeze the applicant’s real estate taxes for the calendar year the taxes are due, and if their property assessment does go up, their taxes will not increase.
To qualify, the applicant or applicant’s spouse must be 65 years old or older, or a widow of at least 50 if their former spouse reached the age of 65 before their death. Also to qualify, income must not exceed $23,500 for a single person or $31,500 for a married couple.
“In these hard economic times it is becoming increasingly difficult for some of our residents to pay the required real estate taxes that are due each year,” said Revenue Department Commissioner Clarena Tolson. “This tax forgiveness program will help ease that responsibility for many of our senior citizen homeowners.”
Each applicant will also be required to provide proof of household income, age, property location and either a tax bill or receipt of real estate taxes paid. Only one taxpayer per household can apply, but once accepted, that tax payer won’t have to apply again the following year.
OPA, much-maligned for AVI, does, however also offer programs to help stressed homeowners. It offers the Homestead Exemption, worth up to $30,000, and a series of other exemptions for nonprofits, veterans, while also providing several abatements for developers.
The Revenue Department suggests that those interested in applying can do so either online at the Revenue Department’s website, www.phila.gov/revenue.