Forging The Frontiers Of Rural Transfer

A transfer station is a simple concept. Garbage is trucked in, dumped, reloaded and then transported to the final disposal site.

Although seemingly easy, like most aspects of the waste management business the mechanics of making it happen offer an endless array of possibilities. The choices made by a waste management professional can mean the difference between a cost-effective, smooth operation and one that's a continual source of headaches.

Many of the same design and operating factors apply to rural and urban transfer stations. These factors include the distance from the waste transfer station to the final disposal site; the number of waste generators using the facility; the volume of materials transferred daily; and the number and types of vehicles visiting the transfer station daily. Although the basic design and operating factors are similar for rural and urban transfer stations, the numbers in the equation make the difference.

Urban and rural transfer mainly differ in the volume of materials transferred daily and the number of facility users within a geographic area. For an urban facility, it's not unusual to receive more than 1,000 tons per day (tpd) in a service area of a few square miles. In rural transfer, however, 500 tpd or less is the norm, with a geographic service area of several hundred square miles.

West Coast Transfer The Heaps Peak Transfer Station operates in the San Bernardino Mountain community of Running Springs, Calif., on the eastern edge of the Los Angeles urban area. At an elevation of 6,300 feet, the facility is nestled in a Southern California mountain resort area. The station handles 140 tpd of mostly self-haul traffic and is visited by more than 100,000 small vehicles per year.

In the winter, waste is transferred approximately eight times per day to the San Timoteo Landfill located 32 miles away. In the summer, the number climbs to 16 each day, reflecting a small disposal explosion as Southern Californians flock to the mountains.

The station was built quickly because of problems with a landfill operating on the site, according to Joseph Harich, owner and manager of Harich Construction, the facility's owner and operator. "In 1980, the Lahotan Water Quality Control Board essentially condemned the old landfill because it was polluting the creek so badly that it killed all the trout down stream. [San Bernardino County] corrected as many problems as it could. The county was mandated to design, engineer, finance and build the transfer station in two and a half months. We opened the doors in 1981."

The transfer station is privately owned and operates under a 20-year lease contract with the County of San Bernardino on a 10-acre site owned by the county. The transfer station employs 10 people, with another seven in the recycling center.

The Heap's Peak Transfer Sta-tion consists of a flat dumping floor inside a 12,000-square-foot building. A separate drive-through tunnel allows transfer trailers to enter the building below the tipping area. Once transfer vehicles enter the building, they're loaded using a crawler or rubber-tired loader.

A separate 15,000-square-foot building houses a recycling center, including a re-use store called "Another Man's Treasure" that specializes in furniture, household goods and clothing. Because the transfer station services mostly self-haul generators, most of the recycling is dropped off and some is salvaged by the floor attendants.

Heap's Peak maintains a low operating cost by taking advantage of back-haul opportunities unique to its location. The transfer trailers used by the facility are 100-cubic-yard end-dumps designed to haul garbage as well as sand and gravel.

"End-dumps are the spookiest to dump because you're up in the air at 40 to 45 feet," said Harich. "But it's the only kind of trailer we found successful to carry two commodities. The old expression in the trucking industry is you don't get paid for hauling air."

Heap's Peak received a great deal of praise for the environmental benefits of the back-haul arrangement, he said. Previously, the sand and gravel trucks were pulling the grade loaded and going back empty, while the transfer trailers were going down the hill with trash and coming back empty.

By combining a back-haul of sand and gravel with the transfer station operation, Harich estimates that the company has reduced diesel fuel consumption by 100,000 gallons per year and eliminated half the trucks pulling the winding mountain roads at 15 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, in neighboring northern Nevada, Refuse Inc. operates five transfer stations, serving an area from Reno to Lake Tahoe. Of these, four are rural and the fifth services Reno. Incline Village in Lake Tahoe, Nev., and Dayton near Carson City, Nev., are flat-floor transfer stations.

The company's Fernley, Nev., facility is a pit-type with a four-foot drop in elevation. The Stead, Nev., station, approximately 10 miles north of Reno, also is pit-type with a depth varying from four to 14 feet on a tapered slope. Tonnages range from 45 tpd at the Dayton facility to 50 tpd at Fernley, 60 tpd at Incline and 100 tpd at Stead. In comparison, Refuse Inc.'s Reno facility handles 1,550 tpd.

Three of the transfer stations em-ploy one full-time person, according to Mark Franchi, the transfer station and landfill manager. "[That employee] takes care of the gate and works the garbage and recycling. When a transfer truck driver arrives, the drivers self-load. At Stead, we have one full-time operator and one full-time gate person. In Reno, which is the big one, we have a full-time gate employee, three operators and various industrial waste spotters and dock personnel."

Most of the ru-ral transfer stations were built during the last two years. The newest one is In-cline, which o-pened in August 1995. Previously, collection trucks traveled 28 miles from Incline to Carson City to dump garbage. To consolidate operations, the transfer station is centrally located at Incline.

"[This location has] made it economically viable to collect everything at one point and then transfer it to our Lockwood Regional Landfill," said Franchi. "We've actually had more tonnage come in since we [opened] the transfer station because the public is using it. In the old days, we had boxes [for people to dump waste]. It was labor intensive - the people had to throw the stuff over the box. Now it's on a platform; just back up to it and dump."

Aside from economics, Subtitle D was another driving factor for establishing the transfer stations. "We wanted to take our refuse to our re-gional landfill because it's Subtitle D approved," Franchi said.

A side benefit has been a reduction in illegal dumping of waste. "We had a problem with illegal dumping in Nevada," recalled Franchi. "People in the desert don't want to go 10 or 30 miles into town or even to the landfill. But if you have a centrally located transfer station, you'd be surprised how your business in-creases."

Georgia Mountain Transfer Allied Waste, Scottsdale, Ariz., op-erates 15 rural transfer stations in Nebraska, Missouri and Georgia. The Georgia facilities are located in communities or counties with 5,000 to 20,000 residents and they service relatively large geographic areas. In most cases, these transfer stations can handle 50 to 200 tpd.

The Ellijay, Ga., transfer station plays a role in Allied's overall collection operations for the area, according to Richard Van Hattem, a company vice president.

"Gilmer County, Ga., has approximately 11,000 people. It is relatively large [geographically,] so most homes are rural. We collect in the mountains with small trucks. Ob-viously, they're not designed to travel great distances to landfills, so the transfer station is the only way we can get the waste to a Subtitle D site."

Ellijay's transfer station, a me-tal structure 45 feet wide and 60 feet deep, handles approximately 65 tpd. One side is open for transfer trailers to back down into the pit. The collection trucks dump onto the tipping floor one at a time. A loader then pushes the material into the trailer. Usually, three to four loads leave the Ellijay station. A typical transfer trip takes 6-1/2 to seven hours to travel the 185 miles to the landfill.

In Van Hattem's experience, de-sign and operation of a rural transfer station is very similar to those of an urban one. "The method of loading and storage is basically the same. The size of the building changes with the anticipated volumes. The Ellijay site is a very small facility - less than 2,000 square feet. Our facilities in metropolitan Atlanta and in Chi-cago are 10,000 to 20,000 square feet. Even though the design is similar, a lot more building and concrete go into [the larger facilities]."

The per-ton costs for a large facility are much lower, according to Van Hattem, because of the fixed costs. "If we have a facility that does 100 tpd, for example, we have to have a loader operator, a scale, a scale house, the transfer building and related equipment. You can still do up to 500 tpd with the same number of people. You're just using your time better."

Truck It Northeast On the municipal side of the in-dustry, transfer stations also are becoming increasingly important. Chittenden, Vt., Solid Waste District services an area of 532 square miles and a population base of 136,000. The district operates one standard transfer facility in Rutland, Vt., which receives commercial and residential waste from packer trucks and loads into open-top tractor trailers. The station is designed to handle 400 tpd.

The district also operates seven drop-off centers which are, in es-sence, low-volume transfer stations. At these centers, residents can drop off their weekly trash, as well as recyclables, used motor oil, lead acid batteries and other materials.

"The centers provide an alternative to curbside trash pickup," said Tony Barbagallo, facilities manager for the district. "Each is a little different from the others. Some are in rural areas; some are more urbanized. We have minor centers, full-service centers and limited-use centers." To-gether, the seven handle approximately 4,500 tons per year.

As residents pull into the centers, they are greeted by an attendant in the booth. "We charge $2.00 for a 30-gallon bag, $1.00 for a 15-gallon bag and recyclables are free if you're bringing your trash," said Barba-gallo. The resident then drives forward and deposits each material into the assigned tilt carts or open- or closed-top containers.

At the large centers, bagged trash is placed in 40-cubic-yard compactors; for bulky waste, 40-cubic-yard, open-top containers are available. The smaller centers have only 40-cubic-yard open-tops.

These small service centers feed into the larger transfer facility. The facility is 70 by 150 feet long, consisting of a flat tipping floor with a push wall or a tipping wall that loads open-top containers. "The tipping wall is designed high enough to accommodate rail service," said Bar-bagallo. "We're currently hauling to the Randolph, Vt., municipal landfill, about 65 miles away."

The transfer station was constructed when the district's local landfill closed. Currently, the district is working to site a new landfill, which will directly affect the transfer station. "We're still exploring rail," said Barbagallo. "If it's only going to be a few years [before another local disposal alternative becomes available], we'll continue hauling by truck. If it's going to be longer than that, we'll haul by rail." If the district successfully sites a landfill, the transfer station can be converted into a rail-served warehouse.

The district contracts a private hauling firm to provide 100-cubic-yard, open-top containers with live floors. The district pays the hauling firm to lease the trailer, then pays for the tractor and the mileage to haul a load. Approximately 20-25 loads are hauled each day.

The Learning Curve As more and more local landfills close due to Subtitle D, rural transfer stations will continue to grow. Increasingly, these stations will integrate recycling to improve diversion and to lower costs. As a result, design will be critical. "Transfer stations currently operating will have to be expanded to handle more recyclables. [We'll] have to adjust so that we can recover more material from the waste," said Allied's Van Hattem.

In addition, operating rural transfer stations will require a learning curve, said Chittenden, Va.'s Tony Barbagallo. "We started at zero on the learning curve. [Although] we were experienced in landfill operations, a transfer station takes more finesse to operate - primarily be-cause there isn't the buffer area that you have with a landfill. You have to accommodate surges in materials."

The Chittenden Solid Waste Dis-trict's biggest problem to date has been getting enough tractor trailers to transfer the waste quickly. "It's getting smoother now," said Bar-bagallo. "Over the past month, we've plateaued out and we aren't experiencing the backlog [anymore]. Our goal is to clean the floor everyday."

Refuse Inc.'s Mark Franchi summarizes the approach that rural transfer station operators must follow: "If you site [the facilities] properly and you've got the volume, tonnage and [prospect of] expanded growth, they work. Keep them simple and run them efficiently."