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January 2, 2007 > Composting: coast-to-coast

Composting: coast-to-coast

By Steve Warga

He was introduced as Stuart C. Buckner, Ph.D and he is a self-described "environmental consultant" with over 20-years experience in the field. So said Brian Mathews, senior program manager for Alameda County Waste Management Authority (ACWMA), who introduced Buckner to the Authority board on December 20. Aided by the ubiquitous PowerPoint programming, Buckner proceeded with a thorough and dry recitation of various composting methods employed around the world.

The New York consultant did not provide any specific direction or focus to a board and staff desperately seeking the same. Nothing Buckner had to say amounted to new, or even revealing, information. This same board and staff went through much of the same information and review before, during and after their fruitless, years-long pursuit of building a massive composting dump in the Sunol Valley near Interstate 680.

Even so, the question and answer session following Buckner's presentation amounted to little more than a cry of, "Lead us out of the wilderness ... please, please, please!" Over and over again, he was asked which composting method ACWMA should pursue. Over and over again, Buckner demurred; and he was right to do so. There were too many variables influencing such decisions for him to answer with any accuracy. ACWMA staff are hired as experts; they should be able to answer this question far more accurately than a man from New York.

The irony of Mathew's introduction seemed entirely lost on all assembled. Why was a staffer drawing a six-figure income and benefits package, introducing a hired consultant with arguably less experience in the field? (From Mathews "bio" posted at "Brian Mathews has been with the agency since 1997. He brings over a decade of private sector experience managing large-scale composting facilities with expertise in material recovery facility operations, food-processing, organics processing and marketing.") Beyond Mathew's alleged expertise, ACWMA staff includes several other fully-qualified waste management professionals. Yet not even collectively can they and Executive Director Karen Smith come up with anything more than an on-going plea for "direction" from the board.

Buckner charges $1, 000 per day, and $125 per hour. He spent three days and an unknown number of billable hours working with ACWMA staff, some of whom were more qualified than he. An informed source believes Buckner's little westward journey will cost local citizens $5,000 - $6,000.

For all that money, Buckner's contributions amounted to one or two pithy observations and a lot of re-treaded information. His sole highlight during nearly two hours at the podium came in a discussion of odor problems and their impact in the more-heavily populated areas of Alameda County. Buckner observed, "If there's no one to smell the odor, you have no odor problem!" had to reach all the way to the Atlantic Ocean before finding such wisdom.

Next up: presentations from about 10 business organizations offering a further variety of ideas for the board to consider. This meeting is scheduled for January 24 at 3 p.m. Hopes are high that ACWMA's brand new offices in Oakland will be ready by then, otherwise, 777 Davis St. in San Leandro will have to do one more time.

Meanwhile, Smith and Mathews will continue collecting salary and benefits while waiting around for someone to tell them what to do; how to do it; and when. Attorney Clem Shute will also continue drawing his retainer, despite collecting an estimated $1 million-plus for producing an Environmental Impact Statement for the doomed Sunol project so badly flawed that he actually recommended to the Authority board that they decline to approve his law offices' work! No refund of fees was offered.

The waste program marches on.

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