Is Dallas trash treasure or mirage?

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by BRETT SHIPP

WFAA

Posted on September 27, 2011 at 10:04 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 28 at 8:34 AM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS — The trash talk is mounting at Dallas City Hall.

On Wednesday, Council members are scheduled to take sides.

At issue: A proposal to force all commercial waste to the city's own landfill, followed by a radical plan to recycle almost every scrap of the city's waste.

But at what cost?

Every year, Dallas residents and businesses dump about two million tons of trash in area landfills. While about half is deposited at the city's landfill at McCommas Bluff, private companies haul the other half to landfills outside the city.

Why? The haulers say it's cheaper.

They say the gate fees outside the city range from $17 to $18 per ton. The City of Dallas charges about $21 per ton to dump.

By requiring haulers to bring their trash to McCommas, Dallas could haul in $15-million extra per year.

The problem, according to the waste haulers, is that more trash trucks would have to travel through the center of the city to get to southern Dallas, where the McCommas dump is located.

"We believe collectively that our costs are going to go up 20 percent," said Tom Brown of the National Solid Waste Management Association. "That translates into a $19 million tax increase, fee increase — whatever you want to call — it to the businesses of Dallas."

But the head of Dallas' Sanitation Department, Mary Nix, says that's not so.

"We have talked to some who say there is an extra cost associated with that, and they have not been able to produce evidence that there is a cost increase associated with it," Nix said.

On the city's Web site, the Sanitation Department bills "Flow Control" as the "future of Dallas waste," and the first step toward a "radical" new process by which the city can recycle 90 percent of the city's raw garbage.

"Having a resource recovery system that can recycle 90 percent or even more of what we now throw in our garbage carts is radical," Nix said. "It's a very positive step forward, and it looks like it's very feasible."

The "radical" plan is being proposed by a company called Organic Energy Corporation. It's modeled after a recycling plant in California, where much of the unsorted waste they receive is recycled on-site.

OEC wants to build a similar plant in Dallas — not only cutting down on landfill usage, but bringing in up to $50 million per year in extra revenue.

OEC executive Barney Gorey said the company will spend $100 million of its own money to build the plant if it is awarded the contract by the city next year.

The company's Web site already boasts a picture of what it calls its "Dallas Facility," but a closer look reveals that it is only drawing.

As for the all-waste recycling plant in Roseville, California, it was built and is operated not by OEC, but by Placer County outside of Sacramento. The plant serves a handful of small cities, charging $68 per ton to recycle only a portion of the unsorted trash, recoving about 30 percent of the recyclables.

OEC, which was formed last year, has never built a recycling plant yet still promises a 90 percent recycling rate — about twice the most efficient plant in America.

Gorey said the current $21 dumping fee would stay the same. "We don't know if our process really works yet, but what's it going to cost the City of Dallas to find out? Nothing," he said.

This summer, Gorey took Dallas Sanitation Director Mary Nix on a guided tour of the California facility. Nix said the city paid her way.

She also told News 8 that three other city staffers took a tour this month of four recycling plants in Germany and England. Their guide was Barney Gorey — who says he wants Dallas to know partnering with OEC is a win-win proposition.

"We are bringing everything to the table, and we are sharing our profits with the City of Dallas," Gorey said. "How difficult a decision is that?"

Again, Nix said the city paid for its workers to travel to Europe.

One of the reasons the measure may not pass is opposition from some in the southern Dallas community. They say they don't want to be the trash dump for the whole city.

For that complaint, the city manager has come up with a plan: Rebate a small portion of any proceeds from the extra trash to a special fund.

E-mail bshipp@wfaa.com

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