Upbeat update on waste-to-energy plan is music to Marion's ears

Fiberight secures $25-million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's biorefinery program

MARION — Keynote speaker Craig Stuart-Paul, chief executive officer of waste-to-energy company Fiberight, told a luncheon crowd of 315 here on Wednesday that his company will be able to keep 80 percent of what they toss in the garbage out of the landfill.

This Fiberight message has been a welcome one for city and community leaders in Marion, which has the local Solid Waste Agency’s Site 2 landfill on its northern border.

Stuart-Paul told the Marion Economic Development Co.’s annual meeting that Fiberight will begin this summer to build a new garbage sorting, shredding and recycling facility in Marion’s industrial center at 4390 Third Ave. The facility should be up and running in the last quarter of 2014, he said.

Lon Pluckhahn, Marion’s city manager, said city regulatory steps have slowed down the "materials reclamation facility" by a few months.

He also said Fiberight’s Marion’s plan now comes in two phases, with the first phase creating 26 jobs and a possible second phase another 17.

Stuart-Paul’s $15-million investment in Marion is part of a larger project that includes the conversion and expansion of a former corn-based ethanol plant in Blairstown in Benton County into a plant that turns the organic material in trash separated in Marion into ethanol.

The Maryland-based Fiberight calls its product Trashahol.

Stuart-Paul, who apologized in his British accent for talking garbage while the audience ate lunch, has been embraced by Marion city officials and the City Council leaders, who signed a development agreement with Fiberight last summer and committed to sending the city’s municipal solid waste to his facility.

The facility, though, needs significantly more trash than the city itself can steer its way in a county where agreements among cities call for garbage to be taken to the Cedar Rapids/Linn County Solid Waste Agency’s Site 2 landfill. The landfill, which opened its own $12-million recycling and resource-recovery facility in January, is just a few miles north of where Fiberight intends to build its waste facility in Marion.

The Solid Waste Agency depends on revenue from garbage to support its operation and its community recycling and education programs, and so it has been looking on at the Fiberight plan with great interest and some skepticism.

After Wednesday’s speech, Stuart-Paul met with Karmin McShane, the executive director of the Solid Waste Agency.

After the meeting, McShane said she still wondered how Fiberight would make its plans work economically for the company.

Stuart-Paul said Fiberight began conversion work at the Blairstown facility in the second half of 2013, and he said construction to expand the existing facility there will begin in April.

Linn County Supervisor Brent Oleson, a Marion resident and chairman of the Solid Waste Agency, on Wednesday said Stuart-Paul made "a good initial salvo of arguments" at the Marion lunch event for why the Fiberight facility in Marion is a good idea.

Oleson said he views the proposed Marion garbage facility in two ways, as a Marion resident and Linn supervisor on the one hand, and as a Solid Waste Agency board member on the other hand.

"(In the first two roles), I’m excited, I want to learn more," he said. "Any time a company of that kind wants to come here and make that kind of investment in our community, it’s something to be excited about."

As a member of the Solid Waste Agency Board, he said he wants to review the plan more to make sure it is best for the county and the region.

"I have no reason not to think that," he said.

Stuart-Paul, who has worked in the recycling industry for years, said Fiberight has operated a small demonstration facility in Virginia for two years to work out the kinks in the waste-to-energy process.

The company has secured a $25-million loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s biorefinery program as well as a $2.9-million grant from the Iowa Power Fund.

Fiberight is also in negotiations with the city of Iowa City to set up a garbage sorting facility at the Iowa City Landfill, from where it will take organic material — food waste, pizza boxes and diapers, for instance — and truck it to the Blairstown ethanol plant.

Stuart-Paul said he is building in Marion because of the city’s "unwavering commitment to zero waste" and the support from city officials to bring the Fiberight project to reality.

"At the end of the day, what’s not to love?" he said.

One questioner asked about odor, and he said garbage stinks. But he said an odor-treatment system will eliminate any odors outside the Marion plant.

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