State official says ‘review and investigation’ of Fort Smith recycling program underway

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 1,372 views 

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) director has confirmed there is a “review and investigation” to see if funding mechanisms available to the city of Fort Smith under its recycling program were properly used in light of recent revelations the city sent more than 90% of its recycled materials to the Fort Smith Landfill from October 2014-Present.

ADEQ Director Becky Keogh confirmed the review in a phone conversation with Talk Business & Politics Tuesday morning (May 23), noting it was in progress and in no way a confirmation the city had done anything illegal. That said, she said the agency was looking at two areas in particular — grant funding and tipping fees.

Talk Business & Politics previously confirmed through ADEQ and the Sebastian County Regional Solid Waste Management District (SCRSWMD) the 2016 purchase of 1,000 recycling cans for the city in the amount of $56,285.28 in spite of the fact the city was knowingly sending most recycled materials to the landfill, which did not offer proper protections. As a result, collected materials were contaminated and mingled with solid waste.

Where tipping fees come into play is in the structure for handling solid waste versus recycling. If the city takes solid waste materials to its landfill, it sends what is called a “tipping” or “gate” fee to the Department of Finance Administration (DFA). A portion of that money goes to ADEQ, Keogh said. But should the city claim the materials as “recyclables,” it receives a credit for those tipping fees as incentive for recycling. The question: of the more than 90% recycling that ended up contaminated or mixed in with solid waste, how much, if any, was reported to the ADEQ for credit?

Keogh reiterated the city may not have reported recyclables in such a manner given they knew of the issue going back to 2014, but said there could be responsibility “in arrears” for any credits to which it was not entitled.

The ADEQ provided this statement to Talk Business & Politics: “For calendar year 2016, the City of Fort Smith received 248,728.93 tons of solid waste; they reported waste reductions of 4,570.5 tons; and paid $366,237.56 ($1.50 per ton) in disposal fees.

“Disposal fees are sent directly to ADEQ from the solid waste facility. No more than 20% of the funds collected are used by ADEQ for the administration of a solid waste management and recycling program. The remaining moneys are deposited in the Solid Waste Management and Recycling Fund which is distributed to the eighteen Regional Solid Waste Management Districts (RSWMDs). The City of Fort Smith is part of the Sebastian County RSWMD.

“Currently, ADEQ is reviewing the City of Fort Smith’s waste reduction credits. Regulated Waste Operations requested information on the waste reduction credits that were claimed on the quarterly disposal fee reports for calendar years 2015 and 2016. City of Fort Smith Landfill Director, Alan Spangler has not yet responded to ADEQ’s request.”

Spangler is the city’s landfill director.

Geffken, in Tuesday afternoon comments to Talk Business & Politics, said “ADEQ has asked if Sanitation took credit for recycling that was not sent to a recycler.”

“If we haven’t done so already, we will be providing ADEQ the information for which they have asked. Jeff (Dingman, Deputy City Administrator) will be able to provide additional information later this week,” Geffken said.

The city of Fort Smith collected an estimated 8,667.46 tons of recycling from October 2014-May 1, 2017. This estimate encompasses 6,073.46 tons of recycling from October 2014 through June 2016 while the city still had an informal agreement in place with Green Source Recycling Center out of Clarksville, Ark. That ended in late June 2016, after which all materials were landfilled. From the 6,073 number, 5,322.14 tons (87.63%) were disposed of at Fort Smith Landfill, where the city also sent 100% of the 1,478 tons it collected from November 2016-May 1, 2017. This latter data was revealed shortly following the May 1 press release from city administration that incorrectly stated the practice had only occurred from November 2016.

Averaging the 27 months of hard data on total collections equals more than 279 tons of recycling collected per month. Using that figure to fill in the four-month gap (July 2016-October 2016) arrives at an estimate of 7,916.14 tons of recycling that were landfilled during the full 31-month period.

In short, the city likely collected 8,667.46 total tons of recycling during the period under review by the ADEQ and recycled only 751.32 tons, or 8.67%. Green Source rejected the vast majority of materials during its agreement with the city due to quality concerns and accepted the last partial load on June 27, 2016.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors is conducting a study session Tuesday night to review options for the recycling program.