Dining Dialogue: Modernizing a landfill

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 43 views 

Baridi Nkokheli was a few minutes into discussing plans to further modernize the Fort Smith Landfill, when he was interrupted by a gentlemen who recognized him.

“I know who you are … and there’s not a whole lot of this town I’m proud of, but you’re doing a good job. I just wanted to say thanks,” the man said before darting along.

Nkokheli, the director of the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation who is also known for his portrayal of legendary U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, didn’t know the man, but was proud of the compliment. He said that type of compliment has become more common in recent years, and he credits the ongoing modernization supported by the Board of Directors and the work of the almost 80 DOS employees.

The interruption provided a clean segue into Nkokheli’s focus to wholly transform the landfill and department operations during the next few years.

The landfill, the largest in Arkansas, has 1,012 acres, with 555 of those permitted for landfill use. The 555 acres will be enough to provide landfill space to 2075, and if the remainder is permitted, the landfill could be used to 2150 – although changes in recycling technologies, consumer packaging and fuel sources could change the volume of items placed in landfills.

Prior to the pleasant interruption, Nkokheli was explaining how the bonds for previous landfill construction have been paid off.

“The citizens now own the mortgage to their landfill,” Nkokheli said with a smile.

With the about $1 million in annual bond payments now able to be used to support future construction and maintenance, Nkokheli and department officials have an aggressive plan to modernize landfill operations using technology and facilities typically associated with airports and city parks.

“It’s not even going to look like a landfill. The people will never see the business end of the landfill. The only people who will see the business end will be the commercial (trash) haulers,” Nkokheli explained.

Indeed, what commercial haulers and citizens will see is a a modern entryway (scale house) estimated to cost $3.2 million – paid from a pay-as-you go budget – and help expedite the average daily traffic of almost 300 vehicles. The existing scale house was built for just one person, but houses two.

The new scale house will be covered with a airport-themed roof and will contain three new scales and technology upgrades to connect with existing landfill software. In addition to providing better security for the landfill area, the new scale house will incorporate improved financial controls that essentially connect the scale activity to the cash register.

“This gives us a much better picture of what is coming in … and that helps us plan better in terms of future operations,” Nkokheli said.

The new technology will also include RFID (radio frequency identification) tags for commercial haulers. The tags, similar to an electronic pass inside vehicles that travel on toll roads, will connect the hauler to the scale measurement to generate an immediate transaction report.

Nkokheli said project construction could begin by June.

A second phase – not yet approved by the Fort Smith Board of Directors – would provide commercial haulers a convenient place to park, and a separate location for individuals to drop trash, brush and other items.

“The goal with this (phase 2) is to provide convenience for our customers, to provide a clean and easy access location for individuals to bring their trash. … You know, at the end of the day, we’re a service-oriented business, and we have to take care of them (customers) just like any other business does,” Nkokheli said, stressing that the improvements are funded using landfill revenue.

Part of that service includes soon launching the automated recycling sideload collection system in about 8,000 households. Nkokheli estimates 50% initial participation in the system, with DOS employees able to service the 8,000-household area in under four days.

Also, the landfill may soon begin selling rock – pulled from the site to make room for landfill space – to third party vendors to generate more revenue for the landfill.

“The lifespan of our landfill will go far into the 22nd Century, so I have to keep that in mind and try to do those things now that will truly help us get the most out of this great asset for the city and this region,” Nkokheli said.

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