By Kurt Christian from the Herald Times
This year’s State of the City Address drew a line in the sand between state lawmakers’ interests and the city’s goals, including a new plan to power Bloomington.
Mayor John Hamilton delivered the final address of his first term Thursday evening. He recounted the city’s successes leading up to its third century before listing challenges Bloomington still has to face: homelessness, substance abuse, hunger, climate change and more. The mayor also detailed a slew of legislative roadblocks the city has faced in its efforts to raise the minimum wage and create affordable housing.
“This state legislature seems to be looking backward,” Hamilton said. “Even today, they refused to pass a real hate crime bill. They are close to passing a bill effectively banning abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy. They may arm our teachers. They shut their eyes to climate change. We, in this progressive community, will keep fighting for our city’s future.”
Hamilton promised Thursday to convene a task force in the next 60 days to study the city’s energy systems, mobility, food and infrastructure.
“I’m directing this new task force to evaluate whether, and how, we might convert our wastewater plant to an anaerobic digestion process,” Hamilton said.
Vic Kelson, City of Bloomington Utilities director, said the Dillman Road wastewater treatment plant currently uses an aerobic system. He said the current system for treating the city’s wastewater produces a sludge of mostly dead micro-organisms. City employees feed that sludge oxygen and deprive them of food so that the remaining micro-organisms essentially digest themselves.
In anaerobic digestion, workers place the mass of mostly dead micro-organisms into a sealed vessel and add a mix of new organisms that eat the sludge and produce methane gas. Kelson said that methane gas can be captured, and re-purposed.
“The next step of this equation is we purchase vehicles that can run off this natural gas,” Kelson said after the mayor’s address.
Hamilton said about 40 percent of the community’s waste is compostable, and over 100 tons of those compostable materials are put into a landfill each day. On top of that, Hamilton said the city’s busses, plows, trucks and other vehicles use over half a million gallons of fuel each year. Anaerobic digestion, he said, could address each of those issues at once.
“This is a complicated challenge, but it’s one we ought to tackle together,” Hamilton said. “What happens here does change the world.”
Among the accolades Hamilton highlighted Thursday were the city’s continued 100-percent rating on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index and its status as a gold-level Bike Friendly City. Bloomington is the only city in Indiana to have received those honors. He also mentioned how the city’s parks department was recently given a gold medal and recognized for being the best parks department of all mid-sized cities in the nation.
Hamilton stressed the benefit Bloomington will see from the 4,100 jobs created or retained by IU Health Bloomington Hospital, Cook Group and Catalent. He’s hoping the city will be seen as an example of a good employer, now that all regular city employees receive at least $15 per hour.
“Rampant income and wealth inequality is eroding our whole society, and affordable housing is an existential challenge to Bloomington’s future,” Hamilton said.
Looking ahead, Hamilton said the $14 million leveraged by CDFI-Friendly Bloomington will create significant affordable housing opportunities in places like the current hospital site, when it’s ready to be re-developed. The city purchased 24 acres of the hospital land from IU Health for $6.5 million last year. The city is currently choosing a master developer to help transform the near downtown site.