It was a dirty job, the raising of a composting shed at the city's police horse stables in the sweltering August heat, but a band of locals took it on.
The city of Key West is about to become the owner of a composting shed for the police department's horses, a project funded with private donations and built by about 20 volunteers who spent Saturday raising the structure outside Fort Zachary Taylor State Park.
Composting the horse manure that collects at the department's mounted patrol stables means the city will eliminate the money and energy required to haul it 200 miles up to a Pompano Beach incinerator at a yearly cost of about $4,500.
But the big-picture value, city staff said, is that the animal waste will now be turned into nutrient-rich soil available for free to residents and local outfits such as the Key West Botanical Gardens.
"We had a great turnout," said Alison Higgins, the city's sustainability coordinator who organized Saturday's 7:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m volunteer workday. "I'd say we're about 60 percent (finished)."
Higgins said the city is relying on volunteer efforts, such as the Sunrise Rotary Club's muscle, to complete the composting shed. Saturday's team included State Attorney Catherine Vogel, civil engineer Birch Ohlinger and volunteer foreman Terrence Justice.
Volunteers are needed again from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. this Saturday. Any takers may RSVP to Higgins at 305-809-3726.
The three-bay shed will become a collection area for horse manure and soiled bedding to be turned into compost. Key West has a trio of trained police horses, Smoke, Chief and Crazy Love, all stabled near the entrance to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park at the Truman Waterfront.
"We're going to have community kids paint a mural and we will install a donation box at the stables," Higgins said Sunday.
Approved by the City Commission in November, the composting project was on hold until now, due to a lack of money for supplies, estimated at about $3,100.
Key West is in the midst of a watershed year when it comes to advocating for sustainability and environmental responsibility, having created a new trash and recycling pickup schedule that urges residents to fill the newly purchased 65-gallon blue plastic carts with recyclable paper, cans, bottles and assorted plastics rather than trash them.
The city directed its garbage hauler, Waste Management, on July 29 to begin a once-a-week curbside pickup of trash, recycling and yard waste in all neighborhoods. For the first time, residents can put out barrels of yard waste to be composted on the mainland instead of being incinerated as was previously done.
City commissioners this year agreed to spend $631,000 on the new blue carts with lids, which replace the 18-gallon open bins, in an effort to raise the island's dismal recycling rate. Of all the trash kicked to the curb in Key West, only 7 percent of it is recycled, studies have found.
Florida's overall recycling rate is at 48 percent, up from 30 percent in 2011. Lawmakers want the rate at 75 percent by 2020.