LEGISLATION: Federal And State Programs Create Cleanup Incentives

As competition among existing and proposed rail-served disposal facilities expands, cities and counties need to know which track they'll take and how much that ticket will cost.

One group planning ahead is the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts (LASAND). After studying waste by rail for three years, the districts created a Waste by Rail Master Plan.

Los Angeles County's current landfills receive 35,700 tons per day, or about 11 million tons per year. The main reason the district is implementing a waste by rail system is to avoid a disposal capacity crisis. "We proposed to levelize costs, which basically subsidizes the higher costs of waste by rail until it can stand on its own," said Bob Asgian, a LASAND senior civil engineer. "This will prevent the shock of tipping fees suddenly going up."

Landfill tipping fees at LASAND are presently $16 per ton. However, tipping fees are expected to increase to $55 to $60 per ton due to the waste by rail system, which includes a MRF and the rail transportation and remote disposal facility. "If we have 12,000 tons per day at our transfer facility at $16 per ton, and 4,000 tons at the MRF at $55 to $60 per ton, we're proposing to levelize these costs to $25 per ton," said Asgian.

According to the plan, cost levelization will substitute direct waste commitments by cities within the district. It presumes that, by raising the overall average cost to users, alternative disposal options will not become more attractive.

Projected advantages of cost levelization include increased disposal capacity for Los Angeles County; increased operational and economic stability; the use of out-of-county landfills via the rail system; and lower costs from increased competition and economies of scale. Potential disadvantages include increased operational complexity; unanticipated surplus disposal capacity; economic risks and facility costs; and less control by LASAND.

"We're trying to implement waste by rail before it's needed," said Asgian. "Right now, it's not absolutely necessary from a disposal standpoint. But it makes sense to ease into waste by rail to get the best long-term project economics, so that we're not at the mercy of supply and demand. If there's no local capacity, your bargaining position is much weaker."

The districts' criteria for incorporating Material Recovery Rail Loading Facilities (MR/RLF) into its levelized cost system include additional disposal capacity as well as economic, environmental and technical feasibility such as operations experience and proven technologies and processes.

As for others, Asgian advises: "Go into it with your eyes open. In all likelihood, waste by rail will require a long-term contract. Understand what the risks are, especially in light of the Carbone decision. Unless you can compete on the open market, you'll have to put up with those people that can come up and say, 'hey we have something cheaper.' Do you have the fortitude and desire to stick that out?"

For more information, contact the L.A. County District at: 1955 Workman Mill Rd., Whittier, Calif. 90607. (213) 685-5217.