PROFILE: Baker Manages Tribal Landfill

WW: Briefly describe the community landfill.

SB: We are the only fully-integrated landfill in the southwest. The landfill operates the reservation's appliance, ferrous and non-ferrous metals recycling. Green waste goes to the landfill's chipper which reduces waste volume and is used as seed mulch for bank stabilization.

The landfill currently receives about 1,700 tons per day (tpd) of solid waste. Our gate rate is $25.75. Our main waste streams come from the city sanitation departments of Scottsdale and Mesa, which collect all of the residential waste in both communities and some of the commercial waste.

WW: How is managing a tribal landfill different from any other landfill in the United States?

SB: The primary difference is that we don't have to comply with city, county or state regulations. The tribal community operates as a sovereign state. We have the same capability as a city, town or county to adopt our own environmental regulations, as long as they're consistent with or more stringent than the federal regulations. For example, this facility was designed and constructed to meet the requirements of Subtitle D. It has a two-foot, re-compacted clay liner and a 60-millimeter, high-density polyethylene liner with a leachate collection system.

Having to comply only with the federal requirements helped us to site the facility where we wanted it to be and to build it in a time frame that was suitable to the tribe's needs.

Last November an ordinance was passed which established solid waste collection and disposal as a tribal utility. About 500 tons per month of commercial solid waste is currently generated on the reservation and it's picked up by seven different companies. Very shortly we will be selecting a single utility contractor to collect the reservation's refuse.

WW: Do your special circumstances as a tribal landfill give you a competitive edge?

SB: Actually, our competitive edge is that we sit in the center of a 12,000 tpd market. Our hauling distance from the farthest part of Scottsdale is less than 20 miles, whereas the next nearest private landfill is more than 40 miles away and another private landfill is being planned 30 miles away.

Also, private industry must pay a 50 percent corporate tax on their pre-tax profit. Tribal governments do not pay that tax.

Our $25.75 gate rate is competitive with the $26 rate at Waste Management's nearby transfer station and the $26 per ton rate at the city of Phoenix transfer station. In addition, we give volume discounts to the sanitation departments of Mesa and Scottsdale.

WW: What are the key issues facing waste managers today?

SB: The biggest issue is holding onto volume by guaranteeing long term disposal markets. As the large, private waste companies move into the public and commercial market, they'll pull waste and revenue away from government facilities.

Solid waste disposal also is becoming a specialized field. Analyzing waste streams, proper handling and legal considerations are of utmost importance. Professional management is essential. For example, we have a registered professional engineer on site to oversee environmental compliance.

WW: How do you see landfill operations changing over the next 5 years?

SB: Landfill operators will be getting as creative as they can to maximize air space. Facilities will accomplish this by getting EPA-approval for alternative daily cover. Facilities also will try to maximize airspace through alternative design, such as alternative liners and using 2-to-1 or 1-to-1 slopes instead of the current 4-to-1.

The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, with a population of approximately 5,000 people, owns and operates the facility.