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Normal Council OKs Continuing Drop-Box Recycling Program

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The Normal Town Council met remotely Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.

The Normal Town Council on Monday OK’d spending about $150,000 on a three-year agreement with Midwest Fiber to continue the decades-old drop-box recycling program.

The 4-3 vote, made during Monday’s remote meeting, means the plan moves forward,  contingent on approval of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the City of Bloomington and McLean County. That’s expected later this month, said Normal City Manager Pam Reece.

Mayor Chris Koos and council members Chemberly Cummings, Kevin McCarthy and Karyn Smith voted in favor of the agreement that McCarthy said was a great solution to enable the popular recycling program to continue.

“It does the greatest good for the greatest number of people in our community,” he said.

“We actually would have a reduced fee for the Town of Normal” with this three-way agreement, added Smith. Last year, Normal spent $90,000 on the drop-box program. But from 2021-2023, each government will pay about $50,000 each under the new agreement. 

Council members Kathleen Lorenz, Stan Nord and Scott Preston voted against the agreement, with each saying they preferred the IGA be approved prior to the Normal council voting on the matter. However, Reece pointed out the contract with Midwest won't take effect until the IGA was formalized by all three governments.

Preston also noted that although such a split-cost agreement would reduce Normal’s annual cost to Midwest Fiber--from $90,000 to $50,000--the overall cost of the program actually will be increasing from $90,000 to $150,000 per year.

“A couple of our colleagues have talked about lowering the cost,” he said. But Midwest Fiber currently charges $7,500 a month, and the new cost is $12,880 per month, he said.

After Normal began curbside recycling in 2013, the nearly 40-year-old program eventually was reduced to just four sites: at Walmart, 300 Greenbriar Drive; Chiddix Junior High School, 300 S. Walnut St.; University Center, 1101 N. Main St.; and Jewel Osco, 901 S. Cottage Ave.

Walmart is the most popular of the four sites, Wayne Aldrich, Normal Public Works director, told the council.

Despite the town offering curbside recycling, the four sites still account for 40% of collected recycled materials, according to council materials. Because of that high collection rate, showing the service is popular, town officials decided against eliminating the drop boxes as suggested in 2018, and instead pursued the intergovernmental cost-sharing agreement.

“Utilization of these boxes is still high. So our residents clearly want it,” said McCarthy.

Costs will vary slightly based on tons of material collected, using the market-value method Midwest Fiber uses for Normal’s curbside program.

Under the agreement, the four sites in Normal will be available seven days a week to all community members. Normal-based Midwest Fiber will take recycling materials from the sites to its White Oak Road facility, and it will maintain equipment for the program.

During public comments, Normal resident Karl Sila told the council he opposed the recycling agreement, saying he didn’t believe it was cost-effective. 

Phoenix industrial subdivision

Also at Monday’s meeting, the council voted 6-1 to conditionally approve the final plat of a north Normal industrial subdivision that's home to a partially-constructed warehouse, abandoned more than a decade.

Nord was the only one to vote against the plat approval.

Last year, Milwaukee-based industrial real estate firm Phoenix Investors LLC took interest in the long unfinished Wildwood Industries warehouse, with plans to complete construction.

Work on the 500,000-square-foot facility halted in 2008 as the Great Recession took hold and Wildwood Industries collapsed amid a financial fraud scheme that sent its owners to federal prison.

Phoenix JCR Normal Industrial Investors' development of the facility is quite a success story for Normal, said McCarthy, who praised town staff and the Bloomington Normal Economic Development Council for taking a blighted property and making it a productive asset in the community.

“It’s fantastic to get outside investors to come into our community and invest millions of dollars in economic development,” said McCarthy. He said Phoenix' interest was a ripple effect from Rivian Motors' arrival in Normal.

Reece said the investment company, which specializes in revitalizing former manufacturing sites, had invested more than $10 million into the project.

Originally approved conditionally in 2008 to Wildwood Industries, the final plat for the area at the corner of U.S. 51 and Kerrick Road never was finalized. Monday's vote was on basically the same document that now requires Phoenix to pay required fees, and file related certificates, according to council materials.

Nord cited his concerns that outdated maps are resulting in lost developer fees tied to infrastructure. However, Reece pointed out while that might be worthy of discussion for future projects, the council approved the developer's plan back in June.

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Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.