Wood recycling program expected to save New Hampshire money

A new wood recycling program could save the state thousands of dollars a year by providing opportunities for local businesses to purchase and use the waste wood that the state has traditionally hired private contractors to haul away.

The state’s Department of Transportation employees cut down trees and shrubs along New Hampshire’s highways as a part of their routine maintenance duties to improve driver visibility and allow for a more efficient winter cleanup, said Douglas Graham, a highway maintenance engineer for the department’s District 4 office, based in Swanzey.

While the Department of Transportation burns some of that scrap wood in its stoves and furnaces, Graham told the Ledger-Transcript that the remainder of the wood is not fit to burn.

As a result, highway crews truck that remaining scrap wood to state-owned storage pits in Walpole, where the wood pile accumulates until it is large enough for the state to hire a contractor to chip the logs and truck the scraps away, Graham said.

“We’re talking about $10,000 to $20,000 every couple of years,” Graham said of the contracting services. “The basis is we are spending taxpayers’ money to get rid of a product that is of no value to us, but may be of value to someone else.”

To someone in the wood business, Graham said, there is really no such thing as a waste product these days. For the state to continue such a wasteful process, he added, doesn’t make economic or environmental sense.

Under a new proposal developed by state employees during a two-year manager training program, the N.H. Department of Transportation will contract with businesses that would use the waste wood as biomass fuel to burn for energy or as bark mulch, Graham said.

Ben Tatro, who was a part of the five-member team who developed the concept last year, said he was frustrated that the state had to pay someone to dispose of its waste wood, when the product is such a valued commodity in many industries.

Members of the N.H. Certified Public Manager project team included Tatro, Robert Hebert and Glenn Smith, all from the Department of Transportation’s Highway Maintenance District 4, as well as Erika Randmere of N.H. Department of Employment Security and Jason Johnson of Milford Area Communications Center.

“The project was a way to look at day-to-day operations and try to identify how we can do things better,” Tatro said. “This idea dawned on us at once because wood waste is something we generate weekly, if not daily.”

The state is still working to identify prospective partnerships with local businesses, Tatro said, but a handful have expressed an interest in purchasing the wood.

The goal, he said, is to have the wood recycling program up and running by the new fiscal year on July 1.

“The wood chips that we create locally can stay in the Monadnock region and help fuel the local economy,” Tatro said. “It’s really state trees providing a state service.”

Graham said it is unclear at this time how much income the state could bring in; the project will have to go out to bid before the state can make a financial assessment, he said. What is clear, he added, is that the state will improve the efficiency of its daily operations and develop a new revenue stream for the state.

According to a statement released by N.H. Department of Transportation officials, the five-member team’s recycling project was recently honored with the George C. Askew Award, a national award from the Academy of Certified Public Managers. The academy recognizes projects that are “innovative, result in expected cost savings and demonstrate an improvement in quality within the work unit,” reads the statement.

Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or adandrea@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.

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