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Wednesday, 2nd March, 2011

UNDER THE PUMP: Australian Vermiculture’s Del and Brendon Price are concerned their business is about to be dumped without good reason. UNDER THE PUMP: Australian Vermiculture’s Del and Brendon Price are concerned their business is about to be dumped without good reason.

Business may be forced to leave

By John Casey

A successful Broken Hill venture with established international credentials says it is facing the prospect of being forced to leave the city to continue its business.

Australian Vermiculture has spent the past 10 years developing "world's-best practice" in organic waste management, but it has now been recommended that council's Department of Sustainability carry out the work itself.

If councillors accept recommendations which will be tabled at tonight's monthly meeting, Australian Vermiculture operators say their business, with sales in five states, would be ruined.

Brendon and Del Price have also questioned the transparency of the tender process for council's organic waste management contract which was largely decided "in-house".

"It's a joke," a furious Del Price said yesterday.

"When three of the four people on the assessment panel are employed by council how can that be considered independent?"

City Council's Group Manager Governance & Community, Des Bilske, who chaired the assessment panel, said he understood those comments.

"But in local government it is not uncommon for this to happen," Mr Bilske said.

"Unfortunately sometimes it is necessary because of the complexity and services that a council provides.

"We can't hide from the fact we assessed City Council's own tender as well as those from outside," he added.

Mr Bilske admitted that the council tender could add as much as $22 per annum to each ratepayer's bill, but said the tender from Australian Vermiculture (AV) was assessed to add around $95 p.a.

"There were a number of factors, including cost, that were used as a criteria," Mr Bilske said.

But Del Price countered that the tender process was flawed from the start.

"In December we were the only business to tender and then after looking at all our details they decided to not accept our offer but call for tenders again and submit their own," she said.

AV founder and Operations Manager Brendon Price described the recommendation to take council's organic waste management in-house as "unjust" and "heartbreaking".

Mayor Wincen Cuy agreed that it would be a "very emotional" decision to be made when councillors voted tonight.

"They (AV) are potentially a very good business and we don't want to lose them," Mayor Cuy said.

"As Mayor - and as a businessman myself - I am concerned to see Broken Hill lose any business but I have faith in the process.

"We as a council must look after the best interests of the ratepayers and their money," Mayor Cuy continued.

Australian Vermiculture had sales in the last financial year in excess of $300,000 and "surely deserved support" from council, Del Price said.

"Our business has been lauded by council in the past and we stepped in to prolong the life of the local abattoir by about 18 months, involving about 40 jobs.

"We clearly are superior in many of the criteria used to select the winning tender and must tick at least half a dozen boxes in council's own community strategic plan," she continued.

In its blueprint for the future of the city; "Broken Hill 2030", council announces it seeks to "Investigate the viability of investing in green technologies in Broken Hill".

It also has a strategy to; "Identify opportunities for Broken Hill to develop as a regional Centre of Excellence in waste management and recycling".

Ms Price says AV meets those guidelines and is supported by reference material from the Soil Foodweb Institute (SFI).

"AV's composting methods and practices makes them the leader in large scale commercial compost in Australia," SFI Director Merline Olson writes.

"Australian Vermiculture is a premiere composter in Australia and has demostrated a strong commitment and leadership in the transformation of the composting industry."

In a letter dated February 2006, council also congratulates AV on their efforts "in relation to waste reduction and commitment to environmental best practice" which represents "a significant saving to Council in both monetary terms and landfill space".

Established in 2000 as a research and development project, AV says it has been combining best practices in worm farming techniques to produce a rich organic fertiliser full of micro-organisms.

"Independent and internationally recognised authorities have proven our products drastically reduce water usage and the need for chemical fertilisers," their advertisement states.

Ms Price issued a plea to other local businesses to "vote with their feet" and attend tonight's council meeting to support their cause.

"This is not just about AV, but other businesses in the future," she said.

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