Haulers claim hour-long waits common at Neal Road
At noon on Tuesday, there was almost no line at the Neal Road Sanitary Landfill. Trucks hauling garbage to the facility pulled up to the scale, paid their “tipping fee” and drove up to the dump site. But, say commercial haulers, the wait can become hellish in the late afternoon, when most commercial garbage haulers, contractors and homeowners are making their dump runs.
Then, garbage trucks are likely to be stacked all the way from the scale booth to distances of 100 yards or more down Neal Road, idling their engines, belching exhaust and stinking of rotting trash. Some haulers claim to have waited two hours or more on bad days. Depending on whom you ask, the average wait at peak dumping hours is between 20 and 55 minutes. A solution is forthcoming, but in all likelihood so are higher fees.
Butte County took over the landfill in March, after a dispute with the former operator, Waste Management Inc., turned into a multi-million-dollar lawsuit. Before the suit was settled, the county’s Public Works Department floated a plan that it claimed would save taxpayers millions by putting the facility under county control. As part of that deal, the Board of Supervisors mandated that all trash collected within Butte County be taken to the Neal Road site, where the county could levy fees for its collection. Previously, some haulers were bringing their loads to privately owned sites, where they could negotiate better deals.
So, while the county may have increased its revenue at the collection booth, it also increased traffic by as much as 40 percent. Trash hauling companies say that having their employees stuck in line when they should be out collecting garbage has already cost them thousands of dollars in overtime expenses.
“Any time you have these delays, it increases our overtime and decreases our productivity,” said Joe Matz, general manager of Norcal Waste Systems of Butte County. “I don’t throw too many compliments toward Waste Management, but we did not experience these delays when they ran [the landfill].”
One unidentified hauler who was waiting outside the landfill agreed.
“I’ve waited 45 minutes to an hour and a half some days,” he said. “Before, there was hardly any wait. There’s been more traffic now. It’s going to cause a bad accident someday.”
Eric Dugger, a solid-waste engineer who oversees the landfill for Butte County Public Works, agrees that higher traffic at the site has caused delays, which he said were rarely more than 30 minutes. At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the supes voted to add a second scale to the landfill entrance, which should alleviate the bottlenecks—in six months or so. But at an estimated cost of $100,000, it seems more than likely that tipping fees will have to be increased.
“Right now, the [Neal Road tipping fees] are the lowest in the state,” Dugger said.
At $21.25 a ton ($8.50 minimum for pickup trucks), Dugger said, the rates are bound to go up. The supervisors said as much when they voted to take over the landfill but haven’t yet decided on when or how much to increase fees. One source said he heard rumors of an 8 percent increase spread over two years, but that number could not be confirmed.
Whether increased fees at the landfill will be passed on to residential customers is unknown. So far, the commercial haulers have not passed on their higher operating costs, but even before the supes voted to take over the landfill, haulers hinted that higher rates could be the result.