Still No Consensus at City Hall on Converting Refuse to Revenue -- Or How to Do It

Waste as opportunity, or waste as the perpetuation of racial and economic inequality? Unfair interference in the trash-hauling free market or the forward-looking future of refuse? Both sides have been hashing it out for a while now, but the Dallas City Council's black members will get back to you on that -- nothing like a consensus emerged at a meeting at City Hall today.

Mayor Mike Rawlings, showing his cards for the first time on the issue of flow control, questioned sanitation services director Mary Nix's numbers and voiced the small-business concern over a "ghost tax" in the form of increased hauling fees that the industry says will result from forcing all trash collected in the city to remain in the city.

For the uninitiated, flow control entails sending all garbage collected in Dallas to the McCommas Bluff Landfill, as opposed to a number of privately owned landfills on the outskirts of the city. The idea, according to Nix, is that eventually a facility will process that waste -- the plastics, wood, aluminum -- and yield a revenue stream on top of nearly $20 million in tipping fees to the city. Schutze has his own issues with that.

No more than a million bucks would go to the Southeast Oak Cliff area as a smelly stimulus to a community struggling with anemic levels of economic development. What's not to love, right?

Well, for starters, the community surrounding the landfill has a legitimate NIMBY gripe that takes the shape of beat-up roads, air quality worries and the perception, as Vonciel Jones Hill put it, "that all trash goes south," away from the noses of white people.

"I continue to vehemently disagree with your position," she said to Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins, whose district includes the landfill and who seems to, at least provisionally, support the ordinance. "But I don't see this as a district issue. I see it as a South Dallas issue."

On the other hand, council member Carolyn Davis pointed out that her South Dallas district is a poor one and verbally shrugged: "[Trash has] been going there for 50 years and nobody said anything about it. Two of my swimming pools are about to get closed. I got pot holes. ... I think we need the money for this city."

Perhaps most skeptical of the cost and feasibility of the project was council member Scott Griggs, who noted the $100-million price tag for a plant that would create perhaps 500 jobs. Is there a plant than currently handles the projected 1.3 million tons McCommas will have to process? he pressed Nix.

"The way we're capturing landfill gas is bigger than anything that's been done before," Nix replied. Dallas, she added, could become a leader.

Angela Hunt forwarded the idea of unbundling the two ideas that have been proposed by Nix as inextricably linked -- the waste recovery and flow control. "I don't want to give up on that idea because flow control presents a challenge."

Long story short, nobody seemed terribly certain where this all is going, or, for that matter, how to get there. They're going to take the issue up again September 28.

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