California Department of Transportation opposes compost bill

A worker completes compost application beside a highway.

A bill that would have required the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to purchase one million tons of compost annually by 2010 for erosion control in order to have “green” highways failed to make it past the state legislature and consequently was dropped last summer by its sponsors.

The original bill (SB 697) to purchase the compost was introduced by Senator Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) in early 2007.

A compromise bill language also failed to gather legislative support due to Caltrans opposition.

The compromise called for Caltrans to report to the legislature by April 1, 2009 on the amount of compost, pesticides, chemical fertilizers, mulch, and other products for landscape maintenance and erosion control used over the past five years.

Caltrans would have also been required to develop a 10 year plan by April 1, 2009 to increase the use of mulch, compost, and mulch products in the state’s highway landscape maintenance program, while phasing out the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

Evan Edgar, the principal civil engineer at Edgar & Associates, Inc., a firm that represents the California Refuse Removal Council, advocates that Caltrans should have purchased the compost and by doing so, spur the production of compost in the state and enhance recycling efforts to supply the material to generate that compost.

“Caltrans made a commitment to have green highways,” he says. “They have specifications for compost, but Caltrans can’t even comply with their storm water pollution prevention plans on construction, so it was almost duplicitous of it to say that it does not support the Wiggin’s bill. They don’t support erosion control at their own project sites because they get violations for storm water pollution prevention.”

Despite concerns about a state budget deficit in 2008, Edgar says that compost erosion control is “more cost effective than other traditional methods. They have to do erosion controls and then the compost specifications will work. They have to step up and do it.

“Compost is one of the best management practices for storm water pollution prevention and erosion control,” he adds. “It prevents sedimentation and for run-offs, it’s a biofilter (bio swale).”

With the passage of Proposition 1A (Highway Safety, Traffic Reduction, Air Quality, and Port Security Bond Act of 2006) on May 16, 2006, the state approved a major bond measure for $19.925 billion worth of highway construction. With the ongoing construction projects to be built in the next few years, Edgar says that Caltrans can afford to ensure that it complies with state environmental legislation by using compost.

According to the United States Composting Council report, Caltrans is responsible for 25,000 acres of land adjacent to its highway network.

“The report showed that if they just used a one-inch thick layer of compost, it would require three million tons a year,” says Edgar. “The market could be three to five million tons a year. We are only asking for one million tons a year by 2010. Let’s have green highways.

“There is a disconnect at Caltrans between green highways and lip service” he adds. “The message was green highways – the implementation is to use compost.”