Building Consensus

IN A STATE AS BIG AS TEXAS, it can be challenging to get five of the state's fastest growing cities to agree on anything, let alone long-term strategies and investments in a solid waste program. The communities have different perspectives on how waste should be collected, recycling goals and approaches to public and private sector responsibilities. And the North Texas Municipal Water District, which provides solid waste, regional water and wastewater services to several communities north of Dallas, knew from experience that meeting the various demands could create conflicts and inefficient service levels. The differences also would affect the incoming waste quantities arriving at the district's three transfer stations.

To balance all community needs and waste flow at its facilities, the district decided to forge a community consensus on principles such as quality service, greater efficiency and acceptable service cost. Now, after completing its plan that involved the participating cities, the district believes its transfer stations are operating more efficiently, waste is better managed, and it has developed sound, long-term solid waste strategies.

Custer Facility Throughput Improvements Current Design Expansion Design
Bay throughput Two units at 60 tons per hour each (120 tons per hour) at 80 percent operating efficiency. Efficiency factor includes downtime for material clogging, compactor maintenance, truck queuing. Three bays at 80 tons per hour throughput (240 tons per hour) at 90 percent operating efficiency. Efficiency factor includes downtime for material clogging, downtime of tamper, and truck queuing.
Hours of operation Average 8 hours per day Average 8 hours per day
Facility throughput capacity 760 tons per day 1,500 tons per day
Capital costs $0 Approximately $3 million

Populations and Priorities

In 2001, the district set a major goal to improve the solid waste facilities, services and programs in the cities of Frisco, McKinney, Plano, Allen and Richardson, Texas. The total population of these Lone Star cities in 1990 was 249,300. By 2000, the population had grown to 443,100, and was expected to approximately double by 2020.

The district's funds for solid waste management are generated by the cities that use its facilities, and each city is charged a percentage of the total costs based on waste amounts put into the district's system. However, cities using the district's facilities are responsible for securing their own collection services. Consequently, each has different ideas about how to collect waste and who should provide the services.

These differences were affecting the waste quantities collected in each community, as well as when waste arrived at the transfer stations. All but one of the cities provided once per week automated collection service. The routes for the four cities are balanced equally across the week, while the city that provides twice per week service experiences major differences in quantities collected each day of the week for its residential customers. Consequently, this caused throughput peaks on the first two days of the week and less waste on the last two days of the week.

Some communities also wanted more brush and yard waste management services, while others wanted more accessible household hazardous waste (HHW) services. As a result, debates arose over what roles and responsibilities should remain as city functions versus what should be managed at the district level.

To meet its member-communities' needs, the district needed to:

  • Balance a transfer system that had one facility exceeding its capacity while others operating well under capacity;

  • Meet future regional demands; and

  • Address the increasing demands for greater service levels by participating communities whose populations are growing exponentially.

Each of these challenges required solutions that would allow services to continue while minimizing cost increases. Cost sensitivity was especially crucial because the district is slated to open a new landfill in 2004 that will increase debt to the system. Thus, the solutions also had to be agreeable to all of the communities because they shared in the construction and operation costs of the transfer stations and landfill.

To develop a program that was acceptable to the district and the cities, the district, with assistance from HDR, Omaha, Neb., developed a solid waste management plan. The plan identified strategies to meet the needs of a region that was changing dramatically each year. One of the focus points of the plan was to improve transfer station operations.

Transfer Station Throughput capacity (tons per day) Average throughput Peak throughput Distance from 121 regional landfill
Custer Road 750 460 670 20 miles
Plano Parkway 770 390 640 29 miles
Lookout 500 570 1000 27 miles

Redirecting the Waste

The district's three transfer stations include the Lookout Transfer Station in Richardson and both the Custer Transfer Station and Plano Parkway Transfer Station in Plano. Waste collected at these transfer stations is taken to the McKinney Landfill, which will close this year. At that time, waste then will be transported to the district's new waste management facility approximately 10 miles northeast of the McKinney site.

To improve facility operations, the district first had to resolve the overuse of the Lookout Transfer Station and the underuse of the other two facilities. This required the cities of Plano and Richardson to change their collection routes and redirect waste from one facility to another. Because Plano's collection program included private sector collection of commercial loads, changing routes also required the participation of the private hauler.

To better balance the waste flow, the cities were given target waste quantities that should be sent to the Lookout Station. They met that challenge. The changes increased collection costs somewhat, but more importantly, it allowed the district to prevent overloading without making immediate capital investments in the Lookout Station. Eventually, the facility will be expanded to meet current loadings and future growth.

Percentage of Total Waste
Transfer Station Before shift After shift
Lookout 40 35
Plano Parkway 27 32
Custer 33 33

Equipment Decisions

In the transfer stations themselves, equipment had to be adjusted to handle the incoming waste. The transfer stations were built when compactor units were the preferred method of transferring waste from collection vehicles to transfer vehicles. Compactor units were beneficial in allowing operators to control quantities, use packer transfer vehicles and achieve better density in trucks. However, because of improvements in transfer trailer design and size, and simpler site operations, operators believed the facilities could be converted from packer units to open-top load operations.

The changes, which are being implemented now, will cost $2 million to $3 million, giving the district additional reason to expand the Custer Station. The expansion will increase capacity from 750 tons per day to 1,500 tons per day.

Building Out

Understanding how the growth of the past 20 years has affected the area's solid waste programs, the district knew how important it was to meet future regional demands. It also acknowledged it would be easier to identify a future transfer station site before a community experienced major development.

Frisco is the farthest from the new landfill, as well as the fastest growing community of the district's five cities. All of its waste currently is being hauled to the Custer Transfer Station. But as Frisco's waste volumes increase and Custer takes on more waste from McKinney as the McKinney Landfill closes, a new site will be necessary to serve Frisco's waste management needs.

Based on this observation, the district and city staff are working to identify a new transfer location that will best meet their long-term needs as well as make the permitting process easier. This is being accomplished through discussions with city staff about the need for the facility, site considerations and local zoning plans. The district hopes to identify a site soon and begin construction around 2010.

Composting and Yard Waste

In the past, the district has provided additional waste management services to member cities, such as used oil recycling. However, some of the cities wanted the district to assume a larger role in implementing activities such as brush grinding, composting, recycling and HHW services. For example, the city of Plano grinds brush and composts yard waste on property owned by the district. But to increase participation in this program, a joint agreement between the district, participating cities and Plano was negotiated creating major shifts of these materials to grinding and composting facilities by mid-2004.

Contracted Cooperation

Over the course of approximately nine months, the district and its committee representing the five cities developed all of the changes with the blessing of each of the participants. This is especially important as the district seeks local government buy-in when permitting new facilities and investing in facility expansions and improvements. However, to formalize the decision-making process, the district and city staff also developed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), spelling out the goals of the solid waste program, the district's responsibilities and each city's responsibilities.

The document emphasizes that each community is willing to change its programs to make the district's overall system more efficient. Each community offers something so that all can benefit. Based on the agreed-upon MOU:

  • Waste now is being shifted from historic patterns;

  • A transfer station expansion is underway at the Custer Facility;

  • The next transfer station expansion is planned for the Lookout Facility;

  • A process is being developed for a new transfer facility in Frisco; and

  • A yard waste grinding pad is about to be built to support an expanded brush grinding and composting program.

Michael Carleton is the environmental and resources management section manager for HDR's Dallas office.