City Hall

Knee-Deep in the Waste Stream as Sanitation Services Head Mary Nix Talks Flow Control

Reason I missed Sanitation Services head Mary Nix last week was because she was on a plane bound for California -- Roseville, specifically, site of a "resource recovery" facility that converts trash into renewable energy. Which means ... get ready ... we're about to talk about flow control, the proposed ordinance that would direct all solid waste collected in the city of Dallas to the McCommas Bluff Landfill or the Bachman Transfer Station.

A year ago this was a proposed revenue-raiser that went nowhere at council. But on August 17, following a contentions back-and-forth at City Hall in June, it returns to the horseshoe. City Manager Mary Suhm told us last week's she balancing the budget, which debuts Friday, without adding in flow control. But as far as she and Nix are concerned, the council would be wise to get into the "trash-to-treasure" business sooner than later, despite the concerns of trash-haulers who say that'll lead to myriad unforeseen problems.

"It has a lot of good benefits for the city from an environmental perspective," Nix tells Unfair Park. "To recover waste and reuse it has both an economic and environmental impact. ... We're getting value from methane, the degrading waste, which is sustainable and reusable energy. We wouldn't be able to do that if we weren't enforcing a strong environmental ethic in our administration, and that's what's driving us."

Speaking of driving, on the other side Nix addresses the issue of increased trash-truck traffic to the Southern sector -- a concern of a few council members and some local leaders, among them Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell, who's in the path of that traffic on Simpson Stuart and who recently said, "Economic development can come in many forms, but it starts with people being properly nourished -- that's food, not refuse." Let's jump, but watch where you step.

I asked Nix why flow control went nowhere last year when it was originally proposed and why it's being pushed now. Why is it so imperative to get this done now?

"It may look like it's become important in the last few months because it's gotten more scrutiny, but it's been an interest from our department and the City Manager's Office in the last couple of years," she says. "Our interest in trying to regain as much of the waste stream to be reused had increased once the Supreme Court upheld decisions in other parts of the country that allowed a municipality to govern its waste stream.

"I am not sure it's an imperative. [Suhm] offered it to council as an idea, and they have provided her feedback as to their interest in pursuing it, and once they said, 'Go tell us more,' that's when she said, 'Put together information to tell the council more.'"

I also asked her about the solid-waste haulers' concerns that the city was already negotiating with some businesses, among them one headed by former Dallas City Manager Richard Knight and another called GCI, which appear in those emails procured under their open-records request. She says Knight "initiated contact, and the city manager indicted there was a meeting to be had. But it's not like there's a head-of-the-line deal. Anyone who has something valid to speak about, she'll speak with. GGI, which was a separate corporation, they made a request and had a valid request, and we've meet with them and every corporation that comes forward and says, 'We have an interesting idea about what to do you with your rubbish.'"

It's unclear where the council is on the issue. A couple of members to whom Unfair Park has spoken are back and forth on the issue: They like the concept of turning trash into a energy they can sell, but share some of their colleagues' concerns about the increase in trash and traffic to the McCommas Bluff Landfill. I asked Nix whether she's been trying to sell the council on the concept.

"I don't persuade them," she says. "My job is to provide them with information and give them as much information as possible to let them draw their own conclusions. I am one of many information sources they seek."

As for that traffic issue: Yes, she acknowledges, it's real. Suhm said the same thing when we spoke last week: "That's the most challenging thing." What says Nix?

"The question is, will they go north or south on Central or south or east and west on I-20?" she says. "There may be 200, 300 more trucks a day entering the landfill, maybe less if they use Bachman Transfer. The council needs to decide: Is that a significant number, a noticeable number, or well worth the value or not? The roadways affected would be I-45, I-20, the exit off I-45, which is Simpson Stuart, and the parallel street to 45, which is 310, or old Central Expressway.

"They would see a significant amount of truck traffic associated with the Inland Port that would be far more significant. I-20 is a truck route. So the number of trucks there seems rather a small fraction. The landfill already takes in 1,000 to 1,200 trucks a day -- an additional 200 300 is notable, but our trash trucks operating in that area are a small minority of the truck traffic in that part of town. But, yes, it's noticeable."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky