Manatee County will get the dirt on port material for landfilling operations

mjohnson@bradenton.comFebruary 13, 2014 

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A bulldozer levels a mound of garbage at the Manatee County landfill on Lena Road in this 2003 file photograph. Manatee County is exploring using dredge material to cover exposed trash at the end of each day. HERALD FILE PHOTO

PORT MANATEE - Manatee County is looking to buy some dirt at a price that's, well, dirt cheap. This week, it may have discovered the equivalent of a dirt outlet mall inside the county's boarders.

As the county's board of commissioners was ordering 623,000 cubic yards of dirt for the county's landfill Tuesday, County Commissioner Larry Bustle and County Administrator Ed Hunzeker floated a novel idea. Instead of paying $6 a cubic yard for a private supplier to haul dirt to the landfill, why not use millions of cubic yards of unwanted dredge material at Port Manatee?

"It could be a great deal for us and a great deal for the port," Hunzeker said.

Port Manatee is awash in sand, gravel and other sea-bottom sediment dredged out of its shipping channels. The port needs to clear some of it out of its 93-acre, dry-land storage site to make room for a major maintenance dredging expected to take place around 2018. It currently has just enough capacity for a dredge operation starting this fall.

The county needs dirt, primarily for covering garbage at its Lena Road landfill. Landfill personnel are required to bury any exposed garbage with clean dirt every night.

A contract with Florida Dirt Source LLC in Collier County will cost Manatee County $4.19 million. The landfill uses about 100,000 cubic yards of dirt per year to cover garbage, according to the county's public utilities department.

The potential for savings could be great if the county uses the port's dredge material. The port has been selling the material for 35 cents a cubic yard to companies needing it for construction and for fill material. While Florida Dirt Source did not break out the cost for its material in

its bid, one of the companies competing did. Manatee-based LAG Hauling bid $3 a cubic yard for material only.

Florida Dirt Source won the bid with a $6 per cubic yard price for its dirt and the cost of hauling it from Myakka City.

Commissioner Larry Bustle, who like his fellow commissioners serves as a member of Port Manatee's governing board, said the county may save on transport as well.

"It's actually pretty close," he said.

While making the switch to homegrown dirt looks good on the surface, the county's public utilities department must evaluate the quality of the port's dredge material before a change in dirt suppliers could be made. Amy Pilson, a spokeswoman for the department, said in an email that the "historical high organic content of dredge material" may limit its usefulness. The material must meet state standards to be used on the landfill.

If the port dirt meets those specifications, the utilities department must also determine how much it will cost to excavate and remove water from it.

Pilson said the landfill currently uses a limited amount of dredge material to cover trash.

The county will honor its procurement contract with Florida Dirt Source. It would not switch to the port or any other supplier until the terms of the contract are fulfilled, Hunzeker said.

Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.

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