Oak Harbor brands its biosolids ‘Harbor Green’

Councilman questions marketing materials, says name sounds like a pot shop

Oak Harbor’s Class A biosolids will be marketed as “Harbor Green” to farmers and gardeners alike, according to a draft plan developed by the city’s longtime public relations consultant, EnviroIssues, Inc.

Brett Arvidson, project manager of the sewage treatment plant, presented the materials during the city council meeting Tuesday night. The marketing plan explains the basics of what Harbor Green is and its uses, and who it should be marketed toward.

Harbor Green is the crunchy dried material — which is virtually odorless while dry — that is the end product of the city’s new sewage treatment plant.

The plan explains that the primary goals of the marketing campaign are to tell people it is safe to use, eliminate the need to transport the biosolids material off Whidbey Island, and build public confidence about the biosolids and the city as the operator of the sewage plant. Potential customers include farmers, gardeners, composting companies, Whidbey Island residents, Oak Harbor City Council and environmental groups.

The plan explains that Harbor Green is approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for gardening and other purposes and goes through a rigorous process to ensure it does not contain pathogens, toxic waste, heavy metals or harmful chemicals.

It also shows the levels of chemicals and metals found in an April sample. The tests show metals and inorganic materials in Oak Harbor’s biosolids, as well as the level of fecal coliform, are much lower than acceptable limits for Class-A standards. It says the mixture should only be used as a soil addition.

The Harbor Green marketing materials are budgeted to cost $14,500. The consultant spent just over $12,000 as of an August 2020 invoice. The marketing materials were completed in July but have not yet been used.

“At this point we haven’t been actively marketing because of the COVID situation,” Arvidson said. “We have begun some discussions with some farmers in the area. We’re coming into the gardening season, and the farming season, so we’re actually in a good position to start using the materials.”

Councilmember Jim Woessner said he was not impressed with the marketing materials.

“I didn’t see the value in it when it was proposed, and after it’s been completed I still don’t see the value in it,” he said in an interview after the meeting.

Woessner criticized the brevity of the marketing plan for its price tag. He said it should have included specifics of who to contact and he said the name “Harbor Green” could be confused with a pot shop. He also noted there was no budget to distribute the marketing materials.

“It was a pretty straightforward marketing plan — no rocket science there,” he said.

A bag in the top right hand corner of the technical sheet features a large bag with the Harbor Green logo.

Woessner took issue with that too.

“At this point in time there has been nothing brought to the council for budget for bagging equipment. I don’t know if there’s bagging equipment out for bid. I don’t know quite honestly if all of that has been thought through,” he said, adding that he could just be in the dark.

Questions to Arvidson and Sabrina Combs, the city public information officer, about how Harbor Green will be packaged have not been answered as of press time.

In addition to the biosolids marketing materials, EnviroIssues’s most recent contract also included other communication projects for the sewage treatment plant and its Interpretive Center, as well as Windjammer Park, for a total contract amount of $158,130.

In October 2019, council members voted to increase EnviroIssues’s contract by $68,730 to include work for the Interpretive Center at the sewage treatment plant and work on Windjammer Park.

The 1,800-square-foot Interpretive Center was built to display information about the sewage treatment plant and house educational programs. The structure was finished in November 2019. Design work on the space was paused in March 2020 due to the impacts of COVID-19, and in June the city decided to postpone the design project until it has the budget to begin the work again.

A working group developed some interim use guidelines for the space while the project is on hold. It suggests the interpretive center be used as a meeting place for city departments, school groups and nonprofits, and to use it as an outreach display for efforts related to water and the environment, highlighting the need for public health protocols. It cautions against using the space for offices.

EnviroIssues was also slated to help with Phase 2 work on Windjammer Park that included engaging the public about the future of the park, revising original plans and obtaining public input about them, and continuing to coordinate with staff.

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