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10 Steps To Successful Facility Siting

May 1, 1996

12 Min Read
10 Steps To Successful Facility Siting

Debra Siniard Stinnett

As the dreaded siting and permitting process for a new solid waste facility draws near, many communities cringe at the thought of the months ahead. Negative public perception and the requirements of a formal siting process make landfills and waste-to-energy (WTE) facilities the most difficult to site.

Although transfer stations, composting centers and materials recovery facilities (MRF) may not be subject by law to a formal siting process and have minimal effect on the environment, they still face opposition in some communities. Consequently, it's essential to involve all interested parties, including residents, politicians, solid waste managers and planners, throughout the entire siting process.

Major siting considerations include:

* environmental and health risks, including potential groundwater pollution, air quality issues and transportation concerns;

* economic issues, including the facility's effect on property values, its construction and operating costs and its impact on local industry;

* social issues, such as equity in site choice, the effect on community image, aesthetics and alternative and future land uses; and

* political issues, such as local elections, community groups' vested interests, site management responsibility and local control.

Additional issues may surface, depending upon local and regional conditions.

The following steps are most useful for a publicly owned MSW facility. Although privately owned facilities may not follow these same steps, they must meet state public involvement requirements such as holding public hearings.

Siting is complex and multi-dimensional; approaches will differ from area to area. Of course, no single successful siting process exists and several steps may occur simultaneously. Adjust the steps according to regional circumstances and variations in state requirements.

1 Identify Facility Need Clearly establish the gravity of the region's solid waste situation, the need for an integrated municipal solid waste (MSW) management approach and the required facilities (type and size). The public may not be alarmed by limited landfill capacity until the site nears closure or until some other crisis occurs. Consequently, facility need must be clearly es-tablished at the outset or continuing opposition may significantly lengthen the siting process.

Conduct a wastestream characterization study to determine waste quantities, composition and generators. This study also should project future waste quantities and composition. Perform an inventory of existing solid waste management programs and facilities to determine their condition and remaining capacities.

2 Involve The Public For successful siting, public involvement must go beyond required formal public hearings. Lack of meaningful public involvement can cause costly delays or can completely halt solid waste facility construction. (See "Don't Wait To Educate Residents About MSW Plans," pages 45-46 in World Wastes, August 1995, for several effective public involvement methods.)

Early and continuous public involvement is necessary for a credible siting process and to inform local officials of residents' perceived risks. Often, citizens mistrust government - especially if past solid waste management decisions were made by a few people behind closed doors. A completely open process that maximizes public participation has the best chance for success.

Public involvement for siting should involve two-way communication between all interested parties and those responsible for carrying out the siting process. Public involvement should serve two main purposes: first, to determine the most suitable facility site and, second, to ensure that the public completely understands the process, any possible problems and all potential solutions.

Public involvement can be enhanced by creating a siting committee. The committee may include residents, politicians, public officials, business leaders, non-profit organization representatives and environmental groups. The committee should be an integral part of the decision-making loop, involved early and until the end. It should have specific responsibilities such as research, siting criteria development, preliminary site evaluation and reviewing consultant recommendations.

Siting controversial solid waste facilities usually requires three formal public hearings. The first should be held at the beginning of the process to explain the solid waste problem and the proposed steps, and to address the public's questions and concerns. A second public hearing is needed to explain how potential sites were selected and how the final site will be chosen. The final hearing should announce the final site.

Every effort should be made to schedule public hearings at a convenient time. Hearings must be advertised as a legal notice at least two weeks prior. Before the hearing, notify the media to receive maximum coverage.

3 Determine The Service Area Decide which jurisdictions will be involved in the siting process. All jurisdictions to be served by the proposed MSW management system should be represented.

Transportation distances and costs will determine sub-regions to be served by facility groupings. For public information purposes, map the service area for each facility grouping by portraying all jurisdictional boundaries, the areas' transportation networks and other descriptive features.

4 Seek An Independent Consultant An independent consultant can serve as a technical advisor and a neutral participant in the siting process. He or she can research environmental constraints, legal requirements, costs and other relevant siting details.

A consultant also can conduct the waste characterization study, a waste centroid analysis (to identify potential sites in broad geographic terms) and a cost/finance analysis. Use this information to outline the advantages and disadvantages of each proposed site. All consultant recommendations must be clearly presented to the public.

5 Define Siting Criteria A siting committee can prepare a list of exclusionary siting factors based on federal, state and local laws. Apply the exclusionary criteria as a starting point for defining unsuitable and suitable land areas.

Exclusionary siting factors for Subtitle D landfills include airports, floodplains, wetlands, fault areas, seismic impact zones and unstable areas. Other exclusionary siting factors include current and anticipated incompatible land uses, local zoning restrictions or lack of transportation access. Other MSW facilities may have somewhat different exclusionary factors.

The siting committee also should develop a list of siting criteria for evaluating and ranking potential sites. Sites that meet the most criteria should receive the highest ranking.

Siting criteria should include environmental and political impacts as well as social and economic factors. No single set of criteria applies to all regions and all facilities. General siting criteria for MSW facilities include:

* ground and surface water protection;

* presence of threatened and endangered species;

* land use compatibility;

* water, sewer and electric utility availability;

* hauling distance to the facility;

* proximity to waste generators as well as schools, churches, hospitals and other public facilities;

* existence of natural buffers between the public and the facility;

* present and future population density and the need to relocate residents;

* cultural and historic impact;

* transportation and traffic problems;

* perceived impact on property values;

* noise and visual impact;

* perceived risk; and

* environmental equity (not concentrating MSW facilities in minority and low income areas).

Visually portray the most promising areas by mapping pertinent features on separate overlays and then combining them. A Geographic Information System (GIS), a computerized mapping system, is ideal. If a GIS is not available, use a series of overlay maps made of translucent mylar material (see diagram on page 78).

A GIS and/or mylar maps allow officials to visualize in layers constraints such as natural and man-made features, population location and density and protected areas, and then to combine them to portray overall impacts.

6 Rank The Sites Applying the exclusionary factors and selection criteria to the study area will reveal several potential sites. Choose a manageable number for ranking and further evaluation by staff, the committee or a consultant.

Not all criteria are equally important. Therefore, the criteria should be weighted based on the importance to each participant. Scoring the criteria is a subjective process, depending on each participant's understanding. However, because the final ranking totals all the opinions, the process is democratic and unswayed by one or more individuals.

Apply the selected criteria and their weighted ranking to each potential site. Numerically rate how well each site matches each criterion. Submit the bestrated sites to further environmental, cost and other technical analyses.

7 Select The Preferred Site The siting committee, all participating jurisdictions and the public should be involved in selecting the preferred final site. Soils, water, slope, wetlands and other environmental considerations should be reviewed for each potential site. The consultant, staff and other participants should visit each of the top sites.

Compare the analyses for the potential sites and determine a final site based on environmental acceptability and other pertinent factors.

For landfills, certified geologists or engineers must next conduct a site suitability analysis. This analysis involves testing the site's soil type and characteristics, water table depth, wetlands delineation, depth to bed-rock and aquifers, and conducting other highly technical subsurface analyses. This study's cost will vary depending upon state requirements and the site's environmental condition.

8 Identify Host Community Benefits A host community should receive certain benefits, amenities or services in exchange for locating a MSW facility within its geographic boundaries. Before permitting begins, the siting committee, residents and elected officials should be involved in determining the benefits.

Appropriate timing is essential when discussing acceptable, feasible benefits. Discussions and negotiations held too late may lead people to believe they are being "bought off." The most common host benefit is direct payment based on facility use.

9 Secure Funding And Financing Funding for solid waste facilities can be public, private or both. The financing method will depend upon the facility type, ownership, size, area served and current financial resources available. A regional MSW entity or the jurisdictions served by the facility should determine the financing methods for a publicly financed project. Financing methods include general obligation or revenue bonds, enterprise funds, development impact fees, certificates of participation and interest rate swaps.

10 Continue Committee Meetings Siting committee meetings should continue after final site selection to discuss design and construction, permit status and ways to implement non-permit requirements such as host community benefits, local traffic controls and aesthetic buffers. The committee can comment on the overall facility design as well as the daily operations plan.

To set the stage for a successful siting process, the International City/County Management Association, Washington, D.C., and S. Carolyn Konheim, author of The Highest Hurdle: Public Acceptance of Resource Recovery Facility Sites, recommend the following:

* Develop specific criteria to help narrow potential sites to a small number.

* Involve citizens and community leaders early and through-out the siting process.

* Make all facility information available to the citizens.

* Maintain contact with all politicians.

* Encourage a local official to personally guarantee project success.

* Keep newly elected officials informed.

* Earn and maintain the support of non-elected community leaders.

* Anticipate negative reactions and misconceptions.

* Find the true concerns underlying those expressed.

* Don't hide negative aspects such as potential hazards.

* Be prepared to respond to legitimate public concerns about negative aspects.

* Cite environmental regulations that will be used to protect the community.

* Demonstrate that the private or public authority has the resources to safely manage and operate the facility for the project's life

* Present spokespeople or information from similar successful facilities.

* Address the host community's concerns and compensate the host community to endear the site and its operation to the citizens.

* Understand that it may take as long as five to seven years to site disposal facilities.

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer system that links maps (spatial data) to reports (tabular data). For solid waste managers, a GIS can assist in spatially analyzing waste generation and composition, collection, source reduction, recycling, disposal and facility siting.

Organizations using a GIS must determine which aspects of municipal solid waste (MSW) management will be analyzed. Based on these, a database can be designed; additional areas can be added as needed.

One design approach for a solid waste database is to use state and federal regulations to suggest map data. Most state and local guidelines for MSW management plans require analysis of waste generation, source reduction, recycling and disposal. Data related to these topics can be loaded onto the GIS database. To study waste generation, for example, map coverages can be created to include:

* land use (including the primary waste sectors: residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural);

* land cover (forested, agricultural, etc.);

* census data (tract, block groups and blocks);

* landfill service areas;

* commercial establishments;

* zoning; and

* industry locations.

Use a GIS database to target certain areas for source reduction programs. GIS also can be useful in assigning collection fees by portraying residential areas, their waste generation rates and their current collection and disposal costs. Variable rate collection fees can be assigned to high-generation areas to provide an economic incentive to reduce waste.

Another potential application is for yard waste management. Using land cover maps, the solid waste manager can locate areas that produce large amounts of compostables. That information can be used to set up separate yard waste collection or for a public information campaign encouraging backyard composting.

Possible GIS coverages to complement source reduction programs include census data, including the number of households and median income; waste composition data; land cover (forested, agricultural, etc.); land use (residential, industrial, etc.); collection routes; and tax parcels.

Using waste generation and reduction estimates, the GIS can calculate the waste quantities requiring final disposal. With this information, it can analyze remaining landfill capacity and perform preliminary siting analyses for future facilities. Then, using transportation coverage, the system can suggest the most appropriate local collection routes and the most cost-effective transportation routes to disposal sites.

Data necessary for this analysis include roads, rail lines, landfills and MSW processing facilities producing residue to be disposed.

A solid waste manager aided by a GIS database also can portray where certain recyclable material types are likely to be generated. Potential markets also can be shown.

Mapping the location of recycling processors and manufacturers within a region, including tabular information on amounts accepted and market specifications, allows the solid waste manager to plan for local collection, aggregating recyclables at regional collection points and analyzing cost-effective transportation routes to markets.

Additional GIS applications include identifying optimal locations for future recycling centers and materials recovery facilities, relative to generation centers and designated markets.

Database information useful in planning a recycling program include collection routes, population centers, demographic data, waste composition, industry locations, commercial locations and locations of recycling, collection and processing facilities.

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