Torn couches, busted TV stands, coolers and black plastic bags of trash were among the items in the disposal pit at Seattle Public Utilities’ north solid waste transfer station in Wallingford last Friday. As a self-haul customer hucked a few more bags out of their car and onto the pile, a roaring bulldozer, covered in grayish trash-dust residue, pushed the waste toward a compactor, where it would be crushed, loaded onto a tractor trailer, hauled to a rail yard and shipped by train to a landfill in eastern Oregon.
Wallingford's dim-lit and dingy waypoint for Seattle waste was built in 1967. On Monday at 5:30 p.m., it will shut down. A safer, less odorous and more energy efficient (the roof will be covered in solar panels) station will take its place in 2016. The new facility will also be bigger — 57,475 instead of 29,127 square feet. And the property will expand eastward to include a block of Carr Place North, between 34th and 35th Street and the site of the Oroweat bakery. The street will become part of the facility’s entrance and scale yard and SPU will build a 10,500 square foot recycling center where the bakery stands. Part of the bakery property bordering Woodlawn Ave. will become a park.
The new facility comes with a hefty price tag. The total project cost, including environmental remediation and land acquisition, is estimated at $92.4 million, according to SPU spokesman Andy Ryan. The city hired the engineering and construction firm CDM Smith in 2012 to design the facility. The cost of the firm’s initial $8,624,217 design contract was reduced to $7,982,060 late last year. SPU will sell bonds in 2014, 2015 and 2017 to pay for the project. To cover the debt service on the bonds SPU will use a combination of “moderate rate increases and operational efficiencies,” according to the utilities' 2014-2019 proposed solid waste capital improvement plan.
The new facility will be similar to SPU’s 100,000-foot South Park transfer station, which opened in April 2013, after 13-years of planning and construction and $76 million in costs. Financially the projects are a big deal for SPU. “Reconstruction of both transfer stations along with site remediation efforts puts considerable short-term financial strain on the Solid Waste Fund,” says the capital improvement plan.
The contrast between the south and north stations is stark. The South Park facility, which is the size of almost two football fields, is separated into two halves. On one side of the building, the city’s contracted waste haulers — Waste Management, Inc. and CleanScapes, Inc. — dump loads of trash. On the other side, self-haul customers can unload old furniture or yard waste from their vehicles.
There is no trash pit. Waste is dropped directly on the floor and pushed by a front-end loader into a hole that drops down into one of the two massive trash compactors in the buildings lower level. Fluorescent lights keep the place brightly lit like a big box store. And daylight streams through clear ceiling panels. There’s a sprinkler system that sprays-down the garbage with deodorizing mist. Workers wash the concrete floor clean every night with captured rainwater.
Commercial waste haulers dump garbage at the new South Park transfer station. Photo: Bill Lucia
Typically six staff members keep the place moving, operating heavy equipment, running the compactors, checking-in trucks. One worker inspects the self-haul pile for misplaced recyclables, like cardboard and metal, which are removed and placed in nearby dumpsters. There are piles of tires and car batteries, a tank for motor oil, a dumpster for bikes. The bikes are sent to the nonprofit Bike Works, where they are repaired or used for parts.
On a recent afternoon a man backed his Subaru up to the self-haul pile and threw away a mattress. The compost heap consisted mostly of tree limbs and a few dry Christmas trees. A row of five Stairmasters was lined against one wall. Garbage trucks came and went at a metronomic cadence, emptying 8- to 10-ton loads. In October 2013, 1,951 garbage trucks emptied waste at the station.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!