As Flagstaff City Council moves forward with fee increases for trash pickup, it begs the question of what that money will produce.
The answer: over $30 million of mostly infrastructure projects to ensure operations can continue into the 2050s, which is currently when use of the site is projected to end, said Todd Hanson, director of the solid waste section for the city.
At the top of that list is replacing the city’s aging fleet. When it comes to the life span of trash collection trucks, most are expected to operate for about 10 years. Hanson said the majority of their fleet has reached or exceeded that life span.
These older vehicles break down more often, which can make it hard to make sure they are completing all their routes.
“We’ve got some stuff that is older than it should be and it’s a little scary because when you lose a quarter of your fleet, now we're not providing the service that we should,” Hanson said. “Really, solid waste is a health and safety issue. You can’t have putrescible waste, your garbage sitting on the curb in the middle of the summer not getting picked up.”
On top of that, it is often more expensive to repair such vehicles. A few vehicles are old enough that the companies that built them either no longer make replacement parts for them or no longer exist, Hanson said. This means if a part breaks, they need to have a machinist create a new part for them, which can be extremely expensive.
It’s not just the fleet that needs replacement -- the road the trucks drive on also needs work. The road into the landfill was built the same time the landfill was, and Hanson said it is no longer able to support their operations.
Specifically, the road has two sharp, 90-degree turns that are difficult to navigate in the large trash collection vehicles they use now. While the road was probably fine for the trucks they used when it was built in the '60s, Hanson said, their drivers are rarely able to make the turn while staying in just their own lane, creating a substantial safety hazard.
Plans to replace the road are already in the works and the department has begun working with the Coconino National Forest on the necessary archeological studies of the area.
They also need to prepare for the next stage of operations at the landfill. At the moment, Hanson said, they believe they only have about five to seven more years of using their current landfill cell before they will have to more to another one.
“That’s why we have to start moving on some of this stuff,” he said.
And, because regulations have changed, it will be far more expensive to construct the new cell compared to previous ones.
While the current landfill cell they are using was grandfathered in and thus doesn’t have to comply with current regulations, the new cell will need infrastructure like an impervious liner and a gas system.
The liner prevents gases that are created in the chemical reactions that occur when garbage breaks down from simply escaping through the ground. With a liner in place, they will also need a gas extraction system to draw the gas that is created out of the landfill, where it is then flared, reducing its impact on the environment.
The 7.5 percent increase the council is going with would also allow them to put a gas capture system on the current cell, which is not required by regulations.
It would, however, bring the cell in line with the recently passed climate change plan and substantially reduce the impact of the landfill on the environment, said Dylan Lenzen, waste specialist for the city sustainability section.