The City Council rejected new agreements for the disposal of fats, oils, and grease materials, known as FOG, at the El Estero Water Resource Center, choosing to continue the city’s current contracts with MarBorg Industries on Tuesday.
The council voted 5-2 to not pursue new agreements to have Santa Barbara’s weekly average of 15,000 gallons of FOG collected by both MarBorg Industries and Coastal Byproducts.
Council members gave several arguments for rejecting the agreements, chief of which was the lack of an economic component in the request for proposals the city issued last year for contracting FOG collection and preprocessing.
“I don’t know how much benefit there is to this particular RFP process,” said Councilman Randy Rowse. “There’s no financial bid. There’s no compelling reason, for me, to want to go this direction. I think we should stick with what we originally set out to do which was create this pilot program, create a successful cogeneration system, and our local hauler had stepped up to the game and done what they did and I think that’s the way we should stay.,”
Another issue raised was that Coastal Byproducts’ preprocessing facility is in Oxnard, while MarBorg’s is in Santa Barbara.
Mayor Cathy Murillo and Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon, who is also the liaison to the Water Commission, dissented, calling the RFP process lengthy and thorough.
“I’m very proud of work that staff did in coming to Water Commission and coming up with a fair RFP through input from your commissions and your council, and I do have to apologize that I am not under the understanding that RFPs have to have an economic component,” Ms. Sneddon said. “In my mind, and the Water Commission’s mind at the time, there had been a five year pilot-project. When you come to the end of a pilot project it might be the time to have an RFP. It seemed a fair request to have that, and it had gone through due process.”
Since 2010, the city has been searching for the best way to handle Santa Barbara’s FOG. By building FOG receiving systems for electrical needs at the El Estero facility and requiring restaurants to divert FOG for collection, the city has taken major steps in keeping damaging FOG out of the sewer systems and converting it into energy.
However, the question of who will handle FOG collection and preprocessing for Santa Barbara was unexpectedly up in the air at Tuesday’s meeting.
When the FOG system for El Estero was installed, MarBorg industries was identified as a suitable partner for the city based on its proximity to the facility, pre-existing FOG hauling services, and willingness to participate in a five-year FOG pilot project that started in 2013, according to the Water Resources Division of the Public Works Department.
At the end of the pilot project, the city became aware of other FOG haulers that wanted to use El Estero, specifically Coastal Byproducts, and issued the RFP, according to Amanda Flesse, wastewater systems manager for Santa Barbara.
Anthony Borgatello, general manager for the Liquid Waste Division at MarBorg Industries, testified at the hearing that MarBorg had already sent a signed contract to the city before the RFP was issued, and that none of the lessons from the RFP process were being implemented anyway.
“The city is still in a FOG pilot program. I encourage the city to acknowledge the progress that has been made and the commitment that has been shown by MarBorg industries, and allow us to finish what we started,” said Mr. Borgatello.
Council members also questioned the need for increased FOG collection while El Estero’s capacity remains limited by an aging electrical grid and flare capacity. With these limitations not yet resolved, the facility receives only 20,000 gallons of FOG a week instead of its maximum capacity of 30,000.
Ultimately, the council determined that current FOG practices in Santa Barbara are running well. The status quo will be maintained while the council reviews MarBorg’s contract.
“The pre-treatment mix that MarBorg has spent years developing seems like it’s working, seems like staff is satisfied with that, so I want to encourage them to keep investing or encourage any investor, entrepreneur who’s doing business with the city of Santa Barbara to feel like there’s transparency and predictability, and that agreements that are bargained for at arms-length will be honored,” said Councilman Jason Dominguez.