June 27, 2000
Councilor Don MacDermott is absent tonight, presumably awaiting election returns in his Republican runoff bid for Jefferson County Clerk . . . Mayor Bernard Kincaid is a few minutes late to tonight’s meeting. He has no formal report but does express rage over insinuations that Birmingham school officials and students resorted to cheating in order to raise SAT scores. Council President William Bell and Councilor Lee Wendell Loder both agree with Kincaid. Only Councilor Blake suggests that reported low scores in reading but high scores in math and science indicate a possible problem somewhere in the standardized testing system . . . A resolution that would allow the city of Birmingham to pledge city resources to help repair Vulcan by leasing Vulcan Park to the Vulcan Park Foundation is up for discussion. Blake complains that several people on the board of the Vulcan Park Foundation are not Birmingham residents, though supporters of the Foundation’s board members indicate that all at least work in Birmingham. Councilor Bill Johnson and Blake continue their recent butting of heads, with Johnson angrily telling Blake that Vulcan is a symbol of the “community” and that the funds for the project will be coming from the “metro area,” not just the city. Considering how long the issue has been in the works, Johnson says he is “appalled” by the fact that Blake has not reviewed documents addressing the Foundation. Johnson reminds Blake that the statue is in Blake’s Southside district. Johnson also refuses to include an amendment to the resolution that would keep Vulcan from being moved from Red Mountain. Noting that he appreciates the Vulcan Park Foundation, Blake protests that Birmingham has put $1 million into the project over the past two years. The councilor notes that the city is also paying a monthly consultant fee in order to receive $2 million in federal money for the project. The resolution is approved, with only Blake casting a “no” vote . . . The controversial Solid Waste Disposal Authority is back on tonight’s agenda. A resolution is under consideration allowing the Council four weeks to look at alternatives to the deal between Masada Oxynol and the Waste Authority, which wants to lease the New Georgia landfill to Masada for $1 a year for 99 years. A $250 million processing and incineration plant designed to convert garbage to ethanol, a cleaner burning gasoline, would be built by Masada Oxynol. The corporation would be paid by the city to pick up Birmingham garbage. Councilor Blake continues to take issue with what he believes is a prearranged plan between Masada Oxynol and the Solid Waste Authority. Defenders of the Masada Oxynol relationship with the Solid Waste Disposal Authority tout the benefits of recycling, thereby saving what they believe is rapidly disappearing landfill space. Blake has a few questions for Councilor Johnson, who has upset some on the Council by siding with the usual Council majority that has sought to strip Kincaid of a variety of mayoral powers. Blake asks if the Mayor’s office or the Streets and Sanitation Department had any input in changes to the solid waste plan. Johnson says he doesn’t know of any of their input, but notes that it’s his understanding that the Solid Waste Authority instigated the changes in tonight’s resolution. Explaining that he believes the Solid Waste Authority was “put in place specifically for the benefit of Masada,” Blake questions the motivation behind proposals to alter Birmingham’s methods of handling city garbage. Answering his own query, Blake reacts with anger, explaining that the need was for “Darryl Harmes and Masada to gain a monopoly on the disposal of waste in the city of Birmingham!” He accuses Johnson of helping to orchestrate the deal, asking Johnson if he’s on the payroll of Masada or acting as a consultant for any of the corporation’s engineering, accounting, or law firms. Johnson angrily tells Blake he’s not at all affiliated with Masada, and is only interested because he is very impressed with Masada Oxynol’s technology. Blake and other critics of the Masada proposal are irate that no cost studies have been examined. “We are turning over all authority of the Council of the city of Birmingham to an unelected group of officials who can contract with anybody at any price to take care of our solid waste. I just don’t believe that is in the best interest of the city.” Blake wants to know how a pipeline will be installed to take the millions of gallons of water that are necessary for the garbage conversion process from the Cahaba River to the New Georgia landfill. No one is able to answer the councilor. Addressing a portion of the resolution that covers the toll taken on landfill space when population increases, Blake points out that Birmingham’s population has declined from 340,00 in 1960 to 265,000 at present. A representative from the Streets and Sanitation Department confirms that Birmingham has had an “exponential decrease in landfill waste.” Blake also warns that Birmingham could be the processing and receiving site for garbage from around the state. The councilor condemns the 30-day period for alternative proposals as a “scam.” Resounding applause from the audience fills the school auditorium. Councilor Loder voices his opinion on the waste plan, citing studies by California that have determined costs to convert waste to ethanol as being exceptionally high. Loder notes that the uncertainties of such new technology makes high investment an irresponsible action. Calling the Masada technology the future of garbage disposal, Councilor Johnson jumps back into the fray, defending the technology but concedes that a review period is needed to determine the present status of the area’s landfills. In sarcastic reference to Councilor Johnson’s recent acknowledgement that his degree in chemistry was a primary reason for his [Johnson's] support of the Masada plan, Blake says that he was also impressed by the technology even though “I don’t have a chemistry degree,” noting that he came close [Blake is a practicing physician]. Blake again condemns what he sees as an attempt by Masada to monopolize control of city waste as well as city land. Mayor Kincaid notes that he is perplexed by the rapid speed with which the Masada plan is moving, calling on the Streets and Sanitation Department to issue a report on the status of solid waste collection and disposal in Birmingham. Kincaid calls the 30-day study period “a charade.” He says the time period is “absurd” and gives the “favorite [Masada] a year’s leg up,” alluding to the year of preparation Masada has had to work out a plan with the Solid Waste Disposal Authority. “I don’t have a degree in chemistry either, but I do know you don’t need a degree in chemistry for this, you need a degree in alchemy. This is changing trash into dollars, and not for us [Birmingham].