Monday, December 7, 2009

Trash in the Spotlight

It may not generate the excitement and anticipation of, say, the opening of a new Harry Potter movie, but Monday night's Richardson City Council work session had an agenda item that some residents have been waiting months for. Trash and how to move it from here to there.

"NTMWD staff will update City Council regarding progress to date concerning the construction of a new Transfer Station at Lookout Drive's terminus point east of Plano Road. District staff will address various neighborhood concerns and present a regional solid waste system need relative to construction of a new Lookout Dr. Transfer Station. Lastly, NTMWD staff will present/explain the new station's necessary 'throughput' amount, which is of significant interest to all parties involved in these station improvements."
After the jump, my own assessment of whether the work session lived up to expectations.
Ignoring the garbled grammar and obtuse wording of the agenda item, I'll give everyone the benefit of the doubt here and assume NTWMD sincerely wants to "address neighborhood concerns." Here are the two most important questions I had going into the work session.
  1. Why is the NTMWD expanding Lookout instead of redirecting trash to Plano Parkway, which has excess capacity?
  2. If Plano Parkway has no excess capacity, why was Lookout chosen for expansion instead of Parkway?

Did the NTWMD staff answer my questions? No. I infer that the decision to expand Lookout before Parkway was made years ago. The reasons were not explained. The order was Custer (now already expanded), Lookout (the project at hand), Parkway (still be done), and finally, construction of a fourth transfer station (location still to be determined). Today, that plan is out of date and it's possible that a fourth transfer station will be needed before Parkway is rebuilt. But for now, NTMWD is focusing on getting Lookout rebuilt.

The NTMWD staff said that the value of the system is in how the system operates as a whole. Striving for local optimization or equalization between components (Richardson vs Plano) is not necessarily incorrect, but NTMWD emphasizes the total picture. They look at a system of three transfer stations (someday four) serving five cities, not one transfer station (Lookout) in Richardson utilized by Plano as well. NTMWD claims there are too many components to expect or even desire equality between each and every pair of components. They presented enough statistics for each of the five cities (population size, trash generated and transfer stations used for residential and commercial and brushy trash) to convince at least this Richardson resident that, overall, Richardson is not being taken advantage of.

NTMWD staff also pointed out that the member cities themselves control which transfer stations they utilize in their efforts to optimize their own trash collection efficiency and to minimize their costs. Richardson staff reported that the city has been evaluating a change in commercial trash routes by diverting two of the nine routes from Lookout to Parkway, with no significant negative impact to operations or cost. The net result is that the overall disparity between trash sent from Plano to Richardson versus the other direction was reduced from 3.8x to 2.7x. The ratio could be dropped further by diverting more routes. That has not been tried and its impact on operations and cost is unknown, but is expected to become an issue at some point with greater diversion.

Although my specific questions were only partially addressed, the detailed presentation (i.e., l-o-n-g) did address many of the other issues raised by the neighborhood associations surrounding Lookout. NTMWD proposed a significantly lower throughput than earlier suggestions. The current actual throughput is 478 tons/day and the new proposal is 750 tons/day average phased in gradually over 20 years. They contrasted this with Custer, which was recently expanded to a higher throughput capacity and is actually closer to surrounding neighborhoods than Lookout is or will be after reconstruction. NTWMD staff also explained how the redesign will improve operations. They didn't claim it, but in my opinion the new, larger transfer station will have less of an impact on the surrounding neighborhood, golf course, soccer fields, and bike trails than the current operation does. NTMWD made an excellent case for rebuilding and increasing throughput at Lookout. Richardson residents living near the Lookout transfer station will have their own opinions, I'm sure, but if I lived nearby, I would not be fighting the Lookout project. I'd be saying I want it done yesterday.

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