NIMBY Notes: Road Worriers

One of the benefits of keeping an eye on NIMBY issues across the country is that sometimes you observe patterns that other folks with a more local perspective miss. Here are four headlines from Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Virginia from last week that drew our attention.

"9 Vehicles Damaged in Lincoln Park Crash," "2-year Old Hit By Garbage Truck in Manchester," "Raritan Valley Police Charge Garbage Truck Driver After His Truck Hit Utility Line At Hospital," and "Garbage Truck Driver Charged in Miller Heights Crash."

Notice a theme?

One of the most consistently raised objections to approving projects in the waste industry is truck traffic, and these headlines explain why. Unlike some other accusations leveled at landfills, like stench or decreased property values, road safety isn't a "superficial" complaint. An abutter can deal with the occasional whiff of trash, even if he doesn't like it. But making his neighborhood drastically less safe is serious.

Developers need to be sensitive to this issue under any circumstances, but especially when attempting to construct waste transfer stations. As a gathering point for lots of local trash collection routes, transfer stations see more trucks per ton of waste than even landfills, which host fewer, larger trucks that originate from those transfer stations. Additionally, since waste transfer stations don't store garbage for long periods of time, opponents are more likely to make the truck traffic their main objection to your site compared to a landfill.

We've witnessed this phenomenon play out across the country, but most recently it's been a hot topic in our home city of Nashville. Waste Connections is attempting to locate a waste transfer station in a part of the city desperately in need of economic stimulation, but the local community has overwhelmingly opposed the project, and the increased truck traffic is a big reason why. At a recent community meeting to introduce the specifics of the project to locals, the proposed route that the trucks would take became a big point of contention, with audience members going over every twist and turn the trucks would take with a fine-toothed comb. This public grilling has played a large part in getting the local councilman, who had previously been on the fence about the project, to take a position against it.

A similar battle is playing out in Booneville, N.Y., but this one looks like it could have a happier ending. Residents are fed up with the route that trucks take to get from Highway 294 to the Ava landfill, which runs along a well-traveled Main Street and passes a local elementary school and high school. Public discontent has grown so strong that there is now support for the construction of a bypass that would funnel traffic directly to the site, and Booneville officials are cautiously on board. Their willingness to move forward with a bypass plan is a testament to how strongly people can feel about truck traffic.

Chances are you won't be lucky enough to have a bypass built to lead right into your facility, but there are steps you can take to minimize the fallout from your trucks. Consider implementing a "bill of rights" for local residents; that is, a set of ironclad promises your company is willing to make on this issue. This can include restrictions on hours that your trucks will be on the road, strict adherence to specific speed limits and a rigorous screening process for hiring drivers. You will also want to make it easy for individual trucks to be identified, and have a direct line for residents to contact your facility's manager to discuss specific trucks that don't follow the rules.

Above all, remember that your project's footprint isn't just the area immediately surrounding the site. It is also every patch of land along the route that trucks will take to get to it. If you can take a longer route that drives by fewer people, chances are it will save you time and headaches in the long run.

Darden H. Copeland is managing director of the Calvert Street Group, a public affairs consulting firm focused on state & local affairs, land-use and development, and grassroots lobbying.

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