Fort Smith sent more than 87% of its total recycling collections to landfill from October 2014-present

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 1,753 views 

The city of Fort Smith collected 6,073.46 tons of recycling from October 2014 through June 2016, but more than 5,300 tons (87.63%) were disposed of at the Fort Smith Landfill. The total could rise well above 87%.

During this period – the time the city’s sanitation department was supposedly taking all recycling to Clarksville, Ark.-based Green Source Recycling Center – only 751.32 tons (or roughly 12.37% of the materials) were accepted for recycling.

Talk Business & Politics sent a request under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to city administration on Monday (May 15) and received those numbers late Wednesday (May 17). Per terms of the request, Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman provided a month-by-month tonnage breakdown for the period following the expiration of the city’s agreement with Smurfit KAPPA on Sept. 30, 2014, to the end of June when the city started taking all recycling materials to the landfill.

Tonnage calculations are provided below, broken down by total recycling (residential, commercial) and total co-mingled recycling accepted by Green Source.

October 2014: 238.1 residential, 2.5 commercial
November 2014: 218.5, 17.2
December 2014: 334.3, 14.9
January 2015: 271.8, 21.35
February 2015: 240.6, 17.3
March 2015: 247, 18.1
April 2015: 198.5, 15.3
May 2015: 238.7, 18.7
June 2015: 242.2, 15.9
July 2015: 250.61, 21.32
August 2015: 247.66, 16.57
September 2015: 281.17, 24.17
October 2015: 291.9, 24.9
November 2015: 290.95, 26.19
December 2015: 342.58, 28.99
January 2016: 295.91, 29.94
February 2016: 278.33, 29.48
March 2016: 267.22, 25.75
April 2016: 266.61, 30.32
May 2016: 289.44, 33.75
June 2016: 279.74, 29.01

October 2014: 58.19
November 2014: 39.75
December 2014: 22.04
January 2015: 34.74
February 2015: 44.56
March 2015: 48.68
April 2015: 77.33
May 2015: 54.12
June 2015: 45.78
July 2015: 43.75
August 2015: 60.49
September 2015: 42.85
October 2015: 34.83
November 2015: 27.98
December 2015: 38.84
January 2016: 26.85
February 2016: 21.03
March 2016: 8.49
April 2016: 3.53
May 2016: 7.76
June 2016: 9.73

Total tonnage of recycling collected: 6,073.46
Total tonnage Green Source accepted: 751.32
Total recycling tonnage sent to the landfill: 5,322.14 (Editor’s note: In addition to this tonnage information, the city acknowledged sending 1,478 tons to the landfill from November 2016-Present, or 246.33 tons per month. Collections from July 2016-October 2016 have not been provided, meaning that the amount of recyclables sent to the landfill could rise above 87%.)

Sept. 30, 2014: The city’s contract with recycling center Smurfit KAPPA expires, leaving the city without a recycling center to process materials.

Starting in October 2014: The city begins informal agreement with Green Source Recycling Center to transport materials to their Clarksville, Ark., facility.

Oct. 10, 2014: Then-Fort Smith Sanitation Director Baridi Nkokheli writes a memorandum to the late City Administrator Ray Gosack detailing the contract expiration and the intent to submit a request for proposal (RFP) for a new provider. The information was to be shared with city directors at the Oct. 14, 2014, study session with a final RFP presentation on Nov. 18, 2014. The memorandum from Nkokheli never appeared on either of those agendas, and it is not clear if Nkokheli ever followed through on the RFP or was allowed to follow through on the RFP.

October 2014-June 2016: The city begins taking a “minuscule” amount of materials to Green Source under the guise it was still recycling. In reality, close to 88% of the materials were dumped at the landfill and co-mingled with trash following contamination.

July 10, 2015: Gosack retires, effective immediately. Dingman takes over as acting City Administrator.

Dec. 7, 2015: Dingman fires Nkokheli for insubordination on an unrelated matter. Shortly thereafter, Dingman has Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert conduct an audit of Nkokheli’s department. The recycling issues are not reported to the public. Also in December 2015, the Sebastian County Regional Solid Waste Management District (SCRSWMD) grants an application from the city of Fort Smith to purchase 1,000 recycling cans in the amount of $56,285.28.

March 18, 2016: Dingman hires Mark Schlievert as the city’s new sanitation director.

March 8, 2016: The Board of Directors hires Carl Geffken as the new City Administrator in a 5-2 vote (Directors Keith Lau, Kevin Settle dissenting). On May 9, Geffken would begin the job with Dingman returning to his deputy city administrator position.

April 18, 2016: Schlievert’s first day on the job as sanitation director.

June 27, 2016: Green Source stops taking all Fort Smith recycled materials because of poor quality of the materials and a preference for higher quality materials out of neighboring Russellville, Ark. From this date, the city starts taking all recycled materials to the landfill.

Aug. 3, 2016: According to an interoffice memorandum written by three high-ranking sanitation officials, “we were completely denied access to Clarksville’s facilities as they no longer could accept our material. An email was sent by (commercial/industrial manager) Dustin Bradshaw to managers and upper level sanitation administration explaining this problem. After looking into this matter further it was discovered that emails from management to admin began in April and May of 2016 which clearly showed that we were only recycling minuscule percentages of the recycling that we were collecting. Sanitation administration was aware of the limitations we were experiencing at Greensource beginning in 2014 and running through 2016.”

May 1, 2017: City administration releases a press release with a number of inaccuracies. Chief among them, a statement to the public that the landfilling of recyclables didn’t start until November 2016. Other errors include a statement Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) permitting was the reason the facility stopped accepting Fort Smith recyclables, and another stating the center had closed its single-stream processing line.

May 2, 2017: City Administrator Geffken defends the city as not being “duplicitous” in its actions with regard to recycling at a public meeting. Mayor Sandy Sanders adds support, stating, “It was just a failure to communicate. … There was no intent to mislead. Trash was still picked up. Recyclable wasn’t separated because there was no place for it to go. It was not done to hide anything from the citizens, but it gave us time to go ahead and try to find a solution to the problem. We just didn’t let the people know that this was happening at the time.” These comments were made before the June 2016 date came to light.

May 3, 2017: Talk Business & Politics discovers in a conversation with Green Source Director Justin Sparrow the facility hadn’t accepted any Fort Smith materials since he started in July 2016, thus contradicting the city’s November date. The city later admits the error.

May 5 and 9, 2017: Talk Business & Politics, following up on cost analyses for what it cost to run unnecessary recycling routes during the 10-month period the city would eventually admit to (June 2016-Present), gets two sets of conflicting numbers, both supposedly coming from the sanitation department. The first pegged the cost at $18,200 per month, or $182,000. The second, provided by then-Director Schlievert a day before his termination, escalated the overall cost to around $529,200, including FEMA schedule recycling rates but not labor costs. A follow-up with the city’s Human Resources department brought total labor costs (excluding benefits packages) to around $155,000, thus settling on an estimate of $684,200. Schlievert also claims numbers Dingman provided from sanitation did not come from him.

May 10, 2017: Schlievert is terminated. A FOIA request is filed by Talk Business & Politics seeking reason for termination. Geffken states the information is a personnel matter and there will be no comment forthcoming, but later says the reason for termination will be provided after TB&P points out language in Arkansas FOIA handbook dictating final administrative resolution requires a reason be provided. (As of the afternoon of May 18, Geffken has yet to provide the requested documentation.)

May 12, 2017: Schlievert counsels with Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen about a possible wrongful termination lawsuit against the city.

May 15, 2017: Talk Business & Politics discusses Schlievert’s case with McCutchen, who provides the aforementioned interoffice memo and tonnage breakdowns from October 2014-June 2016 showing what Green Source actually accepted against estimates from the city of between 246-262 tons per month. None of the Green Source tonnage numbers exceed 25% of the overall, prompting TB&P to send FOIA request to city administration.

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