It’s been 33 years since the Moab Dump was named “America’s Most Scenic” in a tie with Kodiak, Alaska. The quirky contest organized by the Moab Chamber of Commerce and civic leader Joe Kingsley earned the city exposure on national television and it helped cheer up a region hit hard by a severe downturn in mining.
Fast-forward to 2019. The Moab Dump no longer exists and neither does the sign highlighting its status as the nation’s most scenic. The economy successfully shifted from boom or bust mining to mostly booming tourism in recent years and the resultant explosion of visitors – roughly three million in 2018 – has had an impact on the amount of materials that end up in the Moab or Klondike landfills, not to mention the Community Recycle Center. Collectively, the three facilities make up the Solid Waste Special Service District.
While the challenges are many, Evan Tyrrell has made a number of changes at the three facilities, so much so that a person would be hard-pressed to refer to the landfills as dumps – scenic or otherwise.
Tyrrell was hired as district manager in January to replace Deb Barton, who suddenly resigned last October. On Aug. 6 he presented to the Grand County Council an update on what he and his staff have been up to since January.
The district, which the council established in 1992 – the same year the Klondike Landfill was built – receives about 70 percent of its revenue through an enterprise fund, which comes through fees that users pay. The remaining 30 percent comes from transient room tax, mineral lease payments and the Payments in Lieu of Tax fund that the federal government pays.
Tyrrell provided a couple of graphics that show the primary waste streams between 2010 and 2018. It is difficult to compare the two landfills because Moab measures its waste by cubic yard while Klondike is measured by the ton.
Klondike took in nearly 9,000 tons of waste in 2010 and steadily went up from there, reaching 13,000 tons in 2018. Moab’s graphic looks more like an erratic EKG reading, starting at close to 20,000 cubic yards in 2010, peaking at nearly 25,000 cubic yards in 2012, plummeting to a little more than 11,000 cubic yards in 2015, and jumping to 20,000 the following year before dropping down to 15,000 last year.
The recycling center also has seen tremendous growth, processing less than 200 tons in 2010 to about 1,610 by 2018.
Cleaning up their act
Tyrrell provided a number of before-and-after images of the three facilities. The recycle center at 1000 Sand Flats Road has been completely reorganized and the property is clean. Tyrrell was kidding when he said the site was “almost pristine,” but not by much. Gone are tons of recyclables. A new baler was purchased to replace an old model. Materials, once baled, are “immediately” placed into an onsite cargo trailer so it stays clean and maintains its high recycling quality.
Significant progress has been made at the Moab Landfill on Sand Flats Road, where efforts to receive waste have been consolidated. Scrap metal is now being collected at the site, while cardboard is no longer accepted – the recycling center still collects cardboard – old drums, containers and waste fluids are being removed and a new gatehouse has been installed.
The Klondike facility, located north of Canyonlands Airport off Highway 191, has also seen work areas consolidated. Tyrrell has implemented a more efficient compaction and covering process that limits exposed materials and windblown litter. The district has rented a motor grader that is being used to improve the roads, and drainage improvements are underway with the installation of culverts.
The district in tandem with Monument Waste Services and in partnership with the Utah Department of Natural Resources, Rim to Rim Restoration, Southeast Utah Health Department, the City of Moab and the Grand County Sheriff’s office collected nearly 1,100 cubic yards of yard waste from July 26 to 28. Tyrrell said the effort – which was held to mitigate wildfire risks – included more than 350 vehicles, 201 of which were driven to the Moab Landfill, and 156 that went to the Monument Waste transfer station.
About 790 cubic yards went to the landfill and another 1,180 went to Monument Waste, which the company compacted down to 300 cubic yards and transported to the landfill free of charge.
The free event saved Grand County residents nearly $9,000, and nearly 2,000 un-compacted cubic yards of potential fire fuels were removed, said Tyrrell. The City of Moab chipped in its chipper to the project.
Earlier in the year, the district sponsored a spring cleanup in Castle Valley on April 6, again in collaboration with Monument Waste that featured discounted disposal fees and onsite recycling.
All residents were able to take advantage of free disposal vouchers at the Moab Landfill, which accepted up to two cubic yards of waste per residence last spring. The offer comes again from Oct. 21 to Nov. 2.
A free household hazardous waste collection took place May 4. Tyrrell said 47 residents took advantage of the offer.
What does the future hold?
Tyrrell said he has been big on making continuous improvements to the facilities as well as operations. He said he and staff continually enhance safety and workplace culture.
Plans include the restructuring of the overall logistics at the Moab Landfill to address traffic flow and tipping areas.
He wants to remove the huge pile of discarded tires at the Moab Landfill. Also, delivery of an industrial vacuum – one that can be mounted on skids and placed in a pickup bed – is pending. It would be used primarily at the landfills and possibly for post-event cleanup, said Tyrrell.
He also noted there is nowhere in Grand County to dispose of used antifreeze, which is something he wants to remedy. Other plans include the replacement of the district’s administrative office building, establishing a program manager whose job would entail community education and outreach, developing partnerships with collaborators, and seeking out grants, such as those available from the Community Impact Board and other funding for facility and equipment upgrades.
In an effort to enhance programs, Tyrrell looks to expand the electronic and universal waste recycling program and possibly develop a household goods and construction debris reuse centers at the Moab Landfill.
The challenges are many and some are more daunting than others, ranging from the Moab Landfill nearing the end of its life, to failing equipment, to recycling commodity prices that are plummeting to rock bottom.
Tyrrell said the heavy equipment used at the three facilities is aged “beyond its primary operational capacity” leaving the question to answer: Should we rebuild or reinvest? Keep in mind that new trash compactors can cost more than $800,000. The problem with the current compactor is that not only is it old, but it also has been poorly maintained since it was new.
“We need modern, more robust equipment,” he said, in order to effectively manage growing waste volumes with the goal of optimizing landfill lifespans by maximizing compaction densities.
The Klondike is built on Mancos shale, a clay that in unsafe for motorized vehicles when wet, diverting waste haulers to other facilities.
With a decade left in the life of the Moab Landfill, Tyrrell and his staff are looking for ways to keep it on life support for as long as possible. Because it doesn’t have a scale, waste is charged by volume, which makes it difficult to keep it on par with other landfills in the region, including Klondike.
Because recycling prices are low, the center is stockpiling baled cardboard in hopes that prices will rebound.
A public hearing to raise landfill fees will take place Aug. 29 after a regional comparison is performed. If approved, the increased fees will go into effect Sept. 1.
Here’s the breakdown: Municipal solid waste at Klondike will remain at $38 a ton; biosolids will increase from $24 per ton to $32 at the same facility; yard and other green waste will remain at $8 a cubic yard at Moab for residents and will increase from $8 to $12 for commercial; residential construction and demolition fees will remain at $12 per cubic yard and increase to $18 a cubic yard for commercial users. Concrete and asphalt will increase from $12 to $16 for residents and from $12 to $24 for commercial users.