It is likely a small universe of property owners who would elect to have a waste transfer station as a neighbor. The responsibility is thus on transfer station operators to anticipate this pushback and take measures to avoid nuisance complaints pertaining to aesthetics, odors, pests and truck traffic.
Fortunately, decades of waste transfer station operations have yielded some nuisance aversion best practices that can help waste companies respond to or avoid “not in my back yard” (NIMBY) problems that are all too common in the industry.
MOVING ON UP
One of America’s most scrutinized and highest-profile waste transfer stations is the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) East 91st Street Marine Transfer Station in Manhattan.
The facility, scheduled to open in the spring of 2019, has been far from welcomed by its neighbors in the upscale Upper East Side of Manhattan, where apartments routinely sell for tens of millions of dollars.
The location was chosen, in part, as a response to “environmental justice” advocates who strived to ensure that facilities such as power plants, petrochemical facilities and waste transfer stations are not situated solely in low-income ZIP codes.
Thanks to the facility’s deep-pocketed neighboring property owners, the DSNY has had to respond to queries (and lawsuits) and move proactively to put measures in place to minimize the threat of nuisances.
The facility, approved by New York’s city council in 2006, has met resistance based in part on anticipated truck traffic. The estimated number of trucks scheduled to arrive daily as of 2006 was 130. However, a boost in recycling rates and variations in the types of materials collected for recycling, along with compromises made by DSNY, have lowered the daily inbound truck estimate to about 40 to 60 trucks per day.
A combination of dialogue and litigation between the two factions also has resulted in DSNY designating two specific routes as to how those trucks will arrive at the facility, depending on whether they are coming from the north or the south.
While truck traffic has received much of the attention in New York City, it is far from the only source of complaints waste transfer station owners can encounter, as demonstrated by measures taken by the most recent Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) Transfer Station Award of Excellence winner.
People who see the 2017 SWANA Transfer Station Award of Excellence winning facility only from the outside can be “surprised to discover its use.” That observation is included in the award nomination document prepared by Valley Vista Services, operators of the Pomona Valley Transfer Station in Pomona, California.
The nomination claims the “contemporary, two-story administration building entrance would look at home in an upscale office park,” and the warehouse-sized facility behind the building has been designed to be spacious enough to keep all municipal solid waste (MSW) indoors at all times.
The design points to an emphasis on aesthetics that helps bolster the facility’s standing in the community. The facility, which has been designed to look clean and orderly enough as though it may simply be storing retail merchandise rather than piles of MSW, is likely to attract far less negative attention.
“The building’s architecture was intentionally designed to look more like a high-end commercial office building rather than an industrial facility,” according to the SWANA nominating document. “The outside was painted a cream color with muted blue-gray and sage green accents to match the sky and mountains in the background.”
The exterior design is just a part of how the facility’s operators shield the public from the on-site activities, however. In Pomona, “All waste handling activities are conducted inside the enclosed transfer station, which provides a more controlled area for the facility to implement practices that minimize their impact on human health and the local environment,” Valley Vista Services writes of its transfer station.
While there may be aesthetic limitations as to just how attractive a transfer station can look, the Pomona facility demonstrates that some small steps can make a big difference.
The facility also maintains what Valley Vista Services calls a “sustainable, low-maintenance landscape” designed to achieve more than 50 percent in potable water reductions and to be consistent with the city of Pomona’s landscape ordinances.
“Landscape areas were designed with a mixture of drought-tolerant and regionally specific plants to create an aesthetically pleasing sustainable design,” according to the SWANA award nomination document.
Critically, in terms of neighbor relations, “Screen walls were incorporated into the landscape design to alleviate negative view impacts into the site from adjacent public streets and nearby properties,” the document states.
The facility also has an on-site infiltration system for stormwater that entails “the collection of surface drainage within the vegetated swales of the site’s landscape areas.”
Of course, the looks of a station are just one component that affects public perception: What neighbors can’t see, they might still be able to smell. To account for this, Valley Vista Services writes that it is aware of that prospect and has taken measures to stave off the problem.
Operating in heavily regulated Southern California, which has its own, tougher outdoor and indoor air quality standards, Valley Vista Services says the Pomona facility has a misting system and roof-mounted exhaust fans to meet indoor air quality and odor management compliance rules.
“An odor-destroying chemical is injected into the misting system to destroy odor from any material deposited on the tipping floor,” according to the award nomination document. “The exhaust fans draw in clean air from the building openings, while at the same time filtering and discharging air through the roof. The two systems combine to neutralize odors and dust inside.”
As on the East Coast, truck traffic also brings with it the potential for nuisance complaints. In this operational aspect, Valley Vista Services writes of the Pomona facility, “The site layout and traffic circulation was critical for creating a safe and efficient operation while keeping emissions from trucks waiting in line to dump their loads to a minimum.”
The measures being taken in both Pomona and New York are not necessarily rare, and they are not based on recent, pioneering research.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) has maintained a document since 2000 titled “A Regulatory Strategy for Siting and Operating Waste Transfer Stations.”
In a six-page section on best practices, the EPA makes several suggestions regarding the design and potential rollout of a transfer station, including:
- developing a best management practices manual that is “as specific as possible” and that focuses on potential environmental and public health impacts caused by the design and operation of the transfer station;
- identifying the full range of potential impacts, which can include: particulates and volatile organic compounds in the air, odors, microbes and other potential contaminants found in the solid waste stream, noise, the migration of contaminated wastewater off-site and pests such as rats; and
- focusing on the impacts stemming from truck transportation to and from the transfer station, including traffic congestion and truck emissions-related air quality degradation.
Although the document is nearly two decades old, it seemingly hasn’t lost its relevance when it observes that constituencies likely to get involved in waste transfer operations include not only the solid waste industry, but also “communities, environmental justice advocates and environmental organizations.”
The EPA authors also state in the document on transfer station regulations that best practice “recommendations are merely a beginning. The realization of safe siting and operation of waste transfer stations and livable communities requires good-faith collaboration for implementation.”