Albuquerque neighbors continue 3-year fight against proposed trash transfer station

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Can the city save time, money, and energy moving tons of trash each day? The city of Albuquerque claims it has a plan to do just that. However, it involves moving all of that trash to one neighborhood, and not everyone is on board with the idea.

Charles Young is one of Albuquerque’s residential trash truck drivers. Every weekday before dawn, he’s ready for a long day doing much of the city’s dirty work.

He picks up hundreds of barrels of trash from residential streets each day.

“It’s about anywhere from 800-900 {barrels},” Young explained.

Young responsible for just one of 48 residential trash routes in the city of Albuquerque per day. That doesn’t include recycling or commercial pick-ups. Literally tons of trash.

“As soon as our truck gets full we head off to the landfill,” said Young. “And normally we’re back on the route about 11:30-11:45 a.m.”

After picking up another 400 or so barrels, garbage truck drivers take off on their second trip to the landfill for the day.

And that’s where the city claims it can improve the system, by saving time and money.

“They spend a lot of their time just driving,” said Albuquerque Mayor Richard J. Berry. “From an efficiency standpoint, we wanted to see if there’s a better way to do it than that.”

Each trash truck driver for the city of Albuquerque makes the 40-mile round-trip to the Cerro Colorado Landfill on the west side multiple times a day.

It’s an uphill, long, dirt road.

“The road is really hard on our vehicles,” Young said of his daily drive to the landfill.

Once the garbage trucks make it to the landfill, drivers wait their turn in line to dump each trash load.

Mayor Berry said the city can cut out trips to the landfill for garbage truck drivers altogether, by bringing all of the city’s trash to a proposed Transfer Station on Edith and Comanche.

The idea is to transfer the trash into larger, tractor trailer trucks so garbage trucks can stay working in town.

“It’ll save us a lot more time, it’ll be more efficient I think,” Young told KRQE News 13.

The idea is for the larger tractor trailer trucks to make fewer trips to the landfill.

One city trash truck dumps roughly 20,000 pounds of trash off at the landfill twice a day. To put it in perspective, a tractor trailer truck can hold 4-5 times as much trash in one trip.

Current City Trash Truck Traffic at Edith Site:

  • 45 residential trucks in/out
  • 27 recycling trucks in/out
  • 54 commercial trucks in/out

Total daily trips: 126 trucks in/out

Source: CABQ

The City of Albuquerque argues a transfer station will save $75 million over 20 years, cutting down on fuel, maintenance and emissions.

The city has been pushing the idea now for about three years. But those who live near the proposed site are vehemently against the idea.

“I’ve worked for this all my life,” said Larry Stepp, who’s been running a business right next door to the proposed site on Edith for 40 years.

“This is my retirement and my life,” Stepp told KRQE News 13.

The 73-year-old restores and refurbishes old cars, turning potential trash into treasures for his customers.

“I’m working and I still enjoy working, and I enjoy what I do,” said Stepp. “But I sure wouldn’t enjoy it with a bunch of garbage – thank you very much.”

For starters, Stepp worries about the massive amount of trash trucks coming and going on Edith in front of his shop, polluting the air and adding to traffic woes.

“It will destroy my business,” he said.

The site next door is already a city-owned Solid Waste facility for the public to drop off recycling.

“Down this side of the fence right here I have to pick the trash up from the dumpsters every day,” explained Stepp, pointing to the fence which separates his property from the city’s.

He said people already drop off more than just recycling at the site, pointing to photos he’s taken of mattresses dumped on the ground, motor oil, and a toilet.

“The smell, the diesels, the flies, the pack rats it’s gonna create over a period – it’s everything,” said Stepp.

With so many diesel trucks near his shop, the business owner is also worried about the expensive cars he cares for at the shop.

“That white top on that ’55 Chevrolet convertible would not be white one day,” he said.

Proposed Truck Traffic with Transfer Station:

  • 90 residential trucks in/out
  • 27 recycling trucks in/out
  • 158 commercial trucks in/out
  • 65 transfer trailer trucks in/out

Total daily trips with proposed transfer station: 340 in/340 out.

Total new trips with proposed transfer station: 214 in/214 out.

Source: CABQ, 2014 Traffic Study by Wilson and Company

If it becomes a transfer station, the city estimates garbage trucks will make 214 new trips in and out of the Edith location, nearly tripling the amount traffic around the property. According to the city, roughly 340 trucks will be making daily trips in and out of the facility if it becomes a transfer station.

“The street will not handle it,” said Stepp. He believes property values in the surrounding area will plummet, too.

Neighbors who live in the area have their own worries.

“Number one, does it really make sense to bring all the city’s garbage to the middle of Albuquerque?” Peggy Norton told KRQE News 13.

Norton is part of the group fighting the transfer station. Residents would rather the city build a transfer station in a part of town that’s not so densely populated.

“We did a complete health impact assessment lead by two professionals,” Norton explained.

She said there are health and safety concerns, like bicyclists riding near trash trucks on the road.

“The air quality, the trucks idling,” said Norton. “Rodents, odors, noise, would all be negative health impacts,” she added.

The City of Albuquerque’s plan also includes making the Edith site a hazardous waste collection center, for the public to take household items, including paint, motor oil, and batteries.

Neighbors are so opposed to the project, they’ve hired a private attorney to fight the city on zoning.

“We’ve paid over $50,000 to a lawyer to support our case and each time we win,” Norton told KRQE News 13. “Are they just trying to run us out of money and time and energy?”

Mayor Berry said his office has worked on the project for years and vows the city is listening to neighbors.

“I know it’s controversial,” said Mayor Berry. “Everything is. Any time you’re gonna put anything in any neighborhood, it’s controversial.”

“We are happy to have rigorous discussions about this,” Mayor Berry added.

He said neighbors’ concerns have been taken into account.

To ease concerns, Mayor Berry explained all of the trash will be moved in an enclosed facility and will not be stored overnight.

“I’ve had so many people come to me as the mayor and say, ‘Why would you store trash in my neighborhood?’ And the answer is we’re not,” Mayor Berry told KRQE News 13.

The city’s trash will still go to the landfill the same day in larger trucks. And trips in and out of the Edith station, he said, will be staggered.

The City of Albuquerque did look at other locations for potential transfer stations, however, officials said the Edith location is more cost effective.

“Both the experts, the designers, the architects, our Solid Waste Department, have looked at this from the standpoint of being in somebody’s back yard and treat it like it’s your own,” said Mayor Berry.

Neighbors like Stepp aren’t convinced.

“They have yet in all of this to walk through my gate and ask me what I think,” said Stepp. “Not happened yet.”

For drivers like Young, it’s a different story. He said the long route to the landfill is tough on trucks and believes he’d have fewer maintenance issues if garbage truck drivers were able to stay in town.

Residential trash pick-up routes could also be expanded to cover more ground without trips to the landfill, according to Solid Waste managers.

But it won’t be up to Stepp or the garbage truck drivers.

The ultimate decision for the transfer station will eventually go before City Council.

The city still has a few hoops to jump through before anything happens. Currently, the University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research is conducting an economic impact study, at the direction of City Council.

The city of Albuquerque is also requesting a zone change for the land, to a special use permit in order to build the transfer station.

Once UNM’s economic impact study is complete, the Environmental Planning Commission will need to make a decision on zoning.

Whatever the zoning decision may be, either the City or neighbors may appeal the decision.

The next hearing for the project is scheduled tentatively for next month.

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