Monday, November 23, 2009

Trash: NIMBY

The Visitors Section of Monday's Richardson City Council meeting featured four residents appealing to the council for their support for specific neighborhood protections concerning the Lookout Trash Transfer Station. The aging trash transfer station serves as one of three waypoints in a five city area where solid waste is transferred from smaller city garbage trucks to larger capacity NTMWD trucks for the trip to the dump in Melissa.

The speakers asked the city to reconsider where on the existing site the new transfer station would be located, suggesting an alternative farther from nearby homes. They also requested higher screening walls, solid walls not a chain link fence. They also requested that trucks be diverted away from Plano Rd and onto the new Routh Creek Parkway. All of these sound like reasonable compromises for the NTMWD and the city to consider.

The speakers also asked that the capacity of the transfer station not be increased. This request is a little more problematical. The NTMWD operates three transfer stations, roughly equal in capacity. Lookout is the oldest. It carries the heaviest load. To accommodate expected growth, NTMWD is considering a fourth transfer in the north of the district (Frisco) and expansion of the existing transfer stations, beginning with Lookout.

The speakers offered little in the way of alternatives other than to send more trash to Plano. This is the classic "Not In My Back Yard" argument (NIMBY). The NTMWD appears to be more focused on operational efficiency for the five-city region as a whole, not in exactly balancing trash handling, transport and ultimate disposal among each of the five cities. In my opinion, global optimization is as it should be.

If NTMWD has done a cost analysis of the alternatives, it should promote it more. What is the cost of expanding Lookout (construction costs) versus shifting the load to the other transfer stations (hauling costs)? How much time would shifting the load buy us before all three transfer stations are operating at capacity? If Lookout is expanded, how much time does that buy the other transfer stations before they will need expansion? Maybe answers to these questions are readily available, but I couldn't find them on the numerous studies, plans, and Q&A's on the NTMWD Website.

Unless the Lookout neighbors can get these numbers, analyze them, and offer alternatives to expanding Lookout that make financial sense, not just for Richardson but for the five member cities of the NTMWD as a whole, I'm afraid the Lookout neighborhoods had better prepare for a larger Lookout transfer station. But if they keep pushing for proper siting of the new facility, screening walls, blowing trash containment, and odor-elimination, the new transfer station may end up no more intrusive than the existing facility is. Given that the first resident spoke glowingly of all the amenities in the neighborhood today, a bigger but better transfer station might not be such a bad deal for the neighbors after all.

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