Fort Smith Board approves $3 million landfill upgrade

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 108 views 

Amenities at the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation are about to get a drastic upgrade thanks to the passage of a resolution at Tuesday's (June 18) Board of Directors meeting that will allow the city department to spend a little more than $3 million for a new landfill scale facility.

According to Department of Sanitation Director Baridi Nkokheli, the existing facility was built nearly 20 years ago and is out of date and in need of an upgrade to keep up with increasing demand at the landfill, which now requires two attendants for the landfill's scale facility.

"Due to significant increases in landfill traffic volumes over the past 12 years and a 2004 requirement/recommendation from the internal auditor, a minimum of two attendants are now required to be present during all shifts to maintain adequate financial control and to serve customers," he wrote in a memo to the city's Board of Directors.

The current facility is approximately 180-square-feet, he said, and is, "too small to comfortably and efficiently accommodate two people." Nkokheli said the facility does not have adequate insulation for temperature control during the heat of summer or the cold of winter and also is not constructed in a way that would block "rain, dirt and other contaminants" from entering the building.

While the old facility consisted of only an inbound scale that is 13-years-old and an outbound scale that is 19-years-old, the new facility will have a new scale house for employees, "three new scales and hardware upgrades to accompany our existing landfill software," he wrote.

Speaking after the vote, Nkokheli said the new facility should last longer than the current facility has lasted.

"We built it for durability and low maintenance and we believe that it will probably be good for 25 to 30 years. This facility we have right now actually wasn't designed to last 20 (years) and as my memo stated, we've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (in repairs)."

Just in the last seven years, he said the bill for repairs to the scale system alone have totaled more than $115,000, with costs increasing each year.

The new scale system, he said, will have concrete decks, which he said require little to no maintenance, so even though the department will incur a large expenditure with construction, the long-term benefit will be drastically reduced maintenance costs.

As previously reported by The City Wire, the facility will also include new technology, including RFID (radio frequency identification) tags for commercial haulers. The window tags, similar to a PIKEPass used by drivers on nearby Oklahoma turnpikes, will connect the hauler to the scale measurement to generate an immediate transaction report.

The only part of the project that drew a complaint from the public was the inclusion of public restrooms and a small pavilion for customers of the sanitation department. Fort Smith resident David Harris told the Board that the inclusion "bothered" him.

"This is purely for the convenience of the customers and I think we've shown that the convenience of the customer is not a concern of (the Department of Sanitation)," he said. "Just because the customers want convenience, there's no reason we should give it to them."

Nkokheli said customers of the landfill, which serves not only Fort Smith customers but the entire region, have a choice, meaning they need basic amenities, such as a clean restroom facility and a place to eat a sack lunch or take a break during a long day of hauling waste.

"We have over 400,000 people who depend on the Fort Smith landfill to meet their waste disposal needs. We get between 240 and 300 vehicles in a day, six days a week. (We get) more than 90,000 vehicles per year. A lot of commercial vehicles that are collecting trash have to come repeatedly to our landfill. So they're our customers and they are paying a fee, so we look at our landfill sort of like a store and they're coming there, and especially those people outside of Fort Smith city limits, by choice, not necessity. They actually don't have to come to us. They can come to Oklahoma and go to Sallisaw or go elsewhere. So here you have all these customers that are paying to support out operation and we don't provide a public facility for any of them to use at all. So in 20 years the landfill has been there, there hasn't been one public bathroom. And when you have crews that come in two to three times per day, and average of four to five times per week, we just thought that it would be good if we have a public bathroom."

Construction of the new scale house, which will be covered with an airport-themed roof, should start by next month and will be paid for with cash, he said. Nkokheli expects the project to be completed in about nine months.

In other business, the Board heard from Director of Finance Kara Bushkul, who reported that the city had a "clean" audit for 2012.