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DOWNEY - Puente Hills Landfill, the country's largest, will close in eleven months, and local trash will have to find a new home. As part of that necessity, trash will be transported by train some 200 miles to the Mesquite Regional Landfill (MRL) in Imperial County. It's intuitive that costs would increase under such circumstances, and in fact the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County (LACSD) which administer not only Puente Hills and MRL, but also the Downey Area Recycling and Transfer Facility (DART), have been planning for these cost increases for some time.
In fact, each Puente Hills Landfill Annual Report includes a section entitled "Cost Transition Program," which details a three-pronged program "to provide a gradual cost increase and smooth transition between the current cost of local disposal capacity and the higher cost of remote disposal. The fund will be composed of three components: 1) $150 million set aside from gas-to-energy revenues; 2) contributions from future gas-to-energy revenues; and 3) a portion of future tipping fee increases at the Puente Hills Landfill. This program is designed to keep tipping fees as low as possible during the 20-year transition period between the implementation of the Cost Transition Program and the operation of WBR [Waste-By-Rail] at full costs."
LACSD established this program in 2005, but the revenues expected from "tipping fees" (the cost per ton to dump) at Puente Hills did not materialize as expected because a week economy intervened. Consequently, according to the 2012 Puente Hills Landfill Annual Report, which was graciously provided to this writer by LACSD, disposal tonnage at landfills throughout L.A. County has decreased about 42% since 2005.
In fact tonnage at the three landfills owned and operated by LACSD has dropped even more. Puente Hills, permitted for 13,200 tons per day (tpd), had dropped to a little over 6,000 tpd by the first quarter of 2012, from near capacity in 2005. That represents a 52% decrease. LACSD's other two landfills--both a small fraction of the size of Puente Hills and serving limited geographical areas in L.A. County--have decreased similarly: down 65% at Calabasas Landfill and down 52% at Scholl Canyon Landfill, which serves portions of the Glendale-Pasadena area.
The carefully planned Cost Transition Program, therefore, did not accomplish its goals, and as the Report summarizes, "it is uncertain if tonnage levels at the Puente Hills Landfill will ever return to pre-recession levels and the loss may continue until the Puente Hills Landfill closes on October 31, 2013. With a set closure date, capacity not consumed at the Puente Hills Landfill will remain unrecoverable."
The Annual Report continues, describing an alternate approach to minimizing cost increases: "In an effort to both increase the contributions to the cost transition program and maximize the use of the remaining permitted capacity of the Puente Hills Landfill, a new, tiered volume discount program was introduced in January 2011. This program offers discounted tipping fee rates to haulers that can bring in specified volumes of waste in transfer trucks. Waste delivered in transfer trucks is processed more efficiently and increased landfill tonnage results in overall decreased operating costs per ton. All other rates remained at the 2010 cost per ton. The Sanitation Districts will continue to monitor the Cost Transition Program and its ability to provide for a cost-competitive waste-by-rail system."
The report continues to detail the authorization of negotiated rates with haulers for guaranteed quantities of waste. As of July, 2012, the Sanitation Districts had entered into agreements with six haulers. The report noted that "The additional tonnage will allow for more efficient operation and generate additional net revenue for the Cost Transition Program."
In summary, as the 2012 Annual Report indicates, the tipping fee at Puente Hills Landfill has increased from $22.65 per ton in 2005 to $38.41 per ton in 2012. By comparison, the cheapest tipping fees in the U.S. can be found in Idaho, at $18.43 per ton. But don't plan on dumping your garbage in Massachusetts. There it costs $105.40 per ton.
Published: December 6, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 34