On Wednesday, a Missoula City Council Committee agreed to pursue an investigation into waste processing and fertilizer production.

A contract posted on the city’s website shows an agreement with Helena Engineering firm Anderson-Montgomery to examine multiple options including “City assumption of operations and license” of the fertilizer production done by EKO Compost. The original contract indicates a fee not to exceed $85,000, a price that can be augmented with approval later. According to City Councilman Jordan Hess, the city just wants to learn more about its options.

"At this point we're really just trying to understand what the regulatory environment looks like in terms of dealing with solid waste. We want to make sure that we have a mechanism to deal with that long term and, really, the proposal so far is just to study the issue and make sure we understand all of the key pieces."

As far as the research into the regulatory environment is concerned, the contract requests an investigation into "Federal §503 regulations; Montana DEQ Solid Waste licensing requirements; storm water permitting;construction permits,review of proposed DEQ composting rules and time/cost implications of new permit versus assumption of EKO’s permit."

The investigation will also research how EKO Compost mitigates smells and whether or not the city might be able to do a better job if it were to take over. Hess points out that the city already has a stake in EKO Compost’s operation.

"The city owns the land that EKO Compost is located on and its really the council's policy objective to make sure that we have a good understanding of the best long term strategy of keeping solid waste from the waste water treatment plant out of our landfill."

Scott Anderson from Anderson-Montgomery said that the research will begin “Right Away upon City approval of our contract.” That approval is expected to come next week.

At this point, the city's pursuit of 'assumption' does not seem to involve a willing seller. EKO compost officials were hesitant to speak, but all indications are that the announced investigation was a surprise to EKO Compost and apparently came out of the blue.

When asked for a statement on the matter, EKO Compost owner Tom Polish said "In October 2015, EKO Compost sent the city a list of questions, to date, the city has not responded to the questions. The answers we are getting have been through the news media. Until the time we get answers to our questions we will be refraining from comments."

One of the things requested  in the contract is an analyses of the use of fertilizer by the parks department and the fertilizer market place in general. When asked for a run down of the Missoula Parks Department's current use EKO Compost Manager Phil Oakenshield said the city has purchased about 150 yards per year on average over the past three years at a discount. That may sound like a lot, but that is only a small percentage of the 75,000 yards of finished product EKO produces every year.

The city's move to investigate EKO Compost is partially driven by a lease that will end within the year. The city and EKO Compost have a long history of working together that stretches back into the 1970's, however, the city's recent moves may change that relationship.