Why has a plan to privatize the city's Biosolids Recycling Plant fared better this year than last? The fact that the proposal seems headed for City Council approval has everything to do with a new power structure in City Hall. The same propopsal died when Mayor John F. Street proposed it --partly because Council was inclined to reject anything with Street's name on it, and partly because Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell was majority leader at the time and, in that position, controlled the powerful Finance Committee. Blackwell, allied with AFSCME Local 394, which represents Water Department employees who oppose the move, helped kill the deal last year.
To be clear, biosolids do not qualify as doodoo, the produce just comes from doodoo. It's all the stuff that gets treated and filtered out by the city's three wastewater treatment plants and is sent to the Biosolids Recycling Plant, where 10 large centrifuges spin water out of it and turn it into "cake" (because it looks like chocolate cake batter) that can be used as fertilizer. And to be fair, the plant doesn't smell like it used to -- Heard in the Hall was surrounded by 6,000 tons of it and it smelled like a mildly pungent farm. The plant serves Philly and 55 communities in the surrounding suburbs.
Fast forward to now, with Mayor Nutter -- who seems otherwise inclined to deep-six anything that came from Street -- backing the proposal, and calling City Council members for their support. Council members generally will defer to President Anna C. Verna, whose district includes the plant. And new Majority Leader Marian Tasco now chairs the Finance Committee. Both are likely to support Nutter on this -- though Tasco said she wants answers to some tough questions before calling the bill for a final vote.
Perhaps more importantly, Council seems to trust that Nutter's people, led by Rina Cutler, deputy mayor of transportation and utilities, will fill in the blanks they didn't trust the Street administration to do. "That fact that you're here testifying...gives me a great deal of comfort," Councilman Bill Green told Cutler. Final approval of the plan would be significant political victory for Nutter.
Some Councilmembers, particularly Blackwell -- the only member of the Finance Committee to vote against the proposal on Tuesday -- believe that the Water Department doesn't have the answers it wants.