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A dump deal

Mayor ponders whether to give BFI business in return for closing dump.

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GOING PRIVATE
  • GOING PRIVATE

Mayor Mark Stodola wants Allied Waste Services' BFI landfill, built in Southwest Little Rock in the Fourche Creek watershed, shut down before its operational permit expires in 2013.

Stodola's opposition to the dump is a breath of fresh air for BFI opponents who've been working for several years to stop a proposed expansion of the landfill. But his position veers from that held by the Pulaski County Solid Waste Management District's November 2004 action plan, which said if either of the county's two private landfills — BFI and Waste Management's Two Pine — closed, it would hurt the local economy and burden its waste handling.

Allied, which has spent thousands of dollars and several years courting BFI neighbors to get support for an expansion, most recently promising to build a sports park, might also take a new direction — it could make money managing Little Rock's 275-acre municipal landfill, which won't reach capacity until 2054.

Now, at Stodola's request, the city is looking into whether it legally can privatize its own landfill, on Ironton Cutoff Road, and whether such a move would make money.

If an arrangement can be reached in which both the city and BFI can make money, BFI would close the landfill early, Allied Waste attorney Chuck Nestrud said.

“BFI is looking at all options as alternatives” to its request to expand, Nestrud said. He said he didn't know exactly what the city's proposal would look like.

The city would have to use some sort of bidding process, such as issuing a request for qualifications, to award a contract to a landfill operator, City Attorney Tom Carpenter said.

The county's other private landfill operator — Waste Management — has put the city on notice that it expects the city to consider all interested businesses if it is going to privatize.

George Wheatley, Waste Management's director of governmental affairs, wrote Stodola in September to note that the company had expressed an interest in operating the city's landfill to Mayor Jim Dailey in 2002. “At that time, considerable financial savings were discussed. ... Mayor Stodola, we are just as interested today, as we were in 2002, in operating the city's landfill.”

Last week, Wheatley told the Times that he's not sure the company would submit a bid, given an opportunity. “Our interest at this juncture is hopefully to have an open process.”

But a contract with Waste Management — or any other landfill operator other than Allied that might respond to a city request for proposals — wouldn't close the BFI dump before its permit runs out. “If I can get a landfill closed sooner than 2013, that's a wise thing to do,” Stodola said.

Stodola, who with the county's other four mayors and the county judge sits on the Pulaski County Solid Waste Management District, will vote against BFI's bid for a certificate of need to expand. He said that the city landfill can handle all the waste it currently gets as well as what BFI is contracted to take in.

An increase in volume at the city landfill would bring in increased revenues, he said, perhaps even with lower tipping fees, which are higher than those at Waste Management's Two Pine dump outside Jacksonville.

Stodola said the expertise a private company might bring to management could also save the city money. “The people in the private sector suggest that we are overstaffed, that they're running 800 tons a day with five people at BFI and we're running 300 tons with 29.” Waste Management takes in an average of nearly 500 tons a day.

Steve Haralson, director of public works, said the landfill actually employs 16 people. The mayor's number included unfilled and other public works jobs. Public works also runs a composting facility. The Little Rock landfill takes household waste along with some construction debris from both the city and Wrightsville.

Carpenter is studying the terms of the city's bonds issued to finance construction of the city landfill to see if they prohibit private management.

The Waste Management Board will vote on BFI's request for a certificate of need when it meets Nov. 1, executive director John Roberts said. It is in the process of writing a new needs assessment plan, which is filed with the state Department of Environmental Quality.

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