Story and Photos by Shawn Williams
On Tuesday night students of Paul Quinn College joined with residents of the Highland Hills community to hear more about the City of Dallas’ plan to drastically increase the amount of trash transported to the McCommas Bluff Landfill. The town hall meeting was held in the Comer and Isabell Cottrell Student Union Building and drew a crowd of more than 250 people.
Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell moderated the meeting and was encouraged by the large turnout. “This is what civic engagement and civic involvement is all about,” said Sorrell as he kicked off the meeting.
Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Tennell Atkins was on hand for the meeting as well. Atkins’ District 8 contains Paul Quinn College and the McCommas Bluff Landfill. Atkins acknowledge residents’ concerns regarding the “Trash on Treasure” plan and said he was interested in hearing what those in attendance had to say. ‘”The key is to get input from the residents, from you,” he said.
But he also was very clear in reminding the audience of the realities of what’s at stake. “Just remember, McCommas Bluff Landfill is a landfill,” he said, “this is not a new landfill.” He also reminded residents about their decision (by vote) to invest $24 million worth of bond money in that landfill. “At the end of the day remember, all of the trash (in Dallas) goes to this landfill,” he said
Editor’s note: The city only used $20 million dollars of the allocated bond funds and paid the remaining $4 million back towards the overall debt.
The Future: Landfill As Resource Recovery Center
This is absolutely one of the largest town hall meetings I have ever attended,” said Mary Nix, Director of Sanitation Services for the City of Dallas. “Your government works better when we know what you think.” Nix went through a slide presentation from the “Trash to Treasure” briefing to the Dallas City Council.
Nix said the city’s sanitation staff would like to change the way Dallas handles its trash and go from burying it in a landfill to recovering most of it for reuse and turning the trash into other products. They would like to eliminate the need for landfills and waste transfer stations. “It’s a very big idea,” said Nix. She explained how the landfill could someday be reclaimed and to become a golf course, a park or “something that’s useful to this community.” The Trinity River Audubon Center sits on the former site of an illegal landfill.
Sanitation services sees a future Resource Recovery Facility that would eventually takeover the function of the landfill. She referred to it as a landfill in a box. “The waste would be brought into a facility, loaded into a hopper, and sent through a remarkably clean process sorting the material.” She said uses will be found for most of the material that are sorted and cited plants in California and Germany as potential models.
As with any plan looking for approval, the presentation promoted job creation. One of Nix’s slides showed the project could create an estimated 100 jobs within 5 years and 500 jobs over a 5-20 years. It also touted the recovery center as a potential catalyst for development.
Nix’s presentation did not go into the proposed “resource control ordinance” that would require all who collect waste within Dallas to use city landfills and transfer sites. Currently about half of the trash collected in Dallas ends up in landfills outside the city. The new ordinance would mean trash transported to McCommas Bluff would increase from 1 million tons to 1.9 millions tons per year. That’s why residents and students are so concerned about the plan.
First Assistant City Manager Ryan Evans was on hand to answer questions along with Nix and Atkins. President Sorrell received questions via note cards from the audience as well as from Twitter, Ustream and text message and put dozens of questions to the panel.
Why hasn’t the city approved a neighborhood plan?
What are other potential locations for this project?
Why wasn’t there an impact study done beforehand?
“Why is this the only way to create jobs in this community?” one question asked, “Why do we have to wait 20 years for 500 jobs?” That’s the best question asked so far this evening,” said Evans. “This won’t be the only way,” said Evans, adding that he things it’s just the tip of the iceberg. He pointed to the international inland port as another long term source of job creation.
Atkins also wanted to talk about what the recovery center could mean for the surrounding area. “We’re not just talking about a landfill, we’re also talking about how do you develop around the landfill,” Atkins said.
Evans wants to create a dedicated revenue stream from the $13-$15 million dollars that the city says it will gain from the proposed plan. “We need to establish a development fund, [and] draw from that fund to be able to accomplish the goals set forth both in the planned development district and the suggestions that came from mayor’s (Southern Dallas) task force,” said Evans.
Does Trash = Food ?
The conversation eventually turned to grocery stores as it usually does in this part of town. “If you have tried so vigorously to bring a grocery store to this area, what is it about the resource recovery center that makes it so much more attractive?” one question asked, “Does trash necessarily equal food?”
“The resource center will subsidize a grocer,” Evans responded. He pointed to a subsidized grocery store in downtown Dallas as a model. He said once the grocery store went in, the populations downtown went up and suggested the same thing could happen around the landfill. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Atkins agreed. “If we’re doing it downtown, why can’t we do it here,” he said.
Paul Quinn Senior Class President Patrick Hillard remained skeptical after the presentation. “I feel like the community’s voices were heard but I don’t think the questions were fully answered,” said Hillard. “Until the city can give us hard concrete data on why we should support it, I don’t think that we should.”
Mrs. Velma Milliner has lived in the area from 20 years, and she liked what she heard from the city Tuesday night. “It’s beautiful,” said Milliner. “If that’s the way they need to get the neighborhood fixed up, they should go for it,” she said. She also said she appreciated the information provided at Paul Quinn and says Atkins always looks to bring his constituents into the decision making process. “We love our councilman,” Mrs. Milliner said.