The state Environment Department sprang a pop inspection on the city’s solid waste facility on Airport Road earlier this year, and the facility’s lackluster performance has Las Vegas officials working to address the handful of violations found.
City Manager Timothy Dodge said the city had been aware of problems at the transfer station and recycling center even before the inspection and has been trying to address the deficiencies. He said many of the problems stem from the department being underfunded for years, something that is changing due to rate increases being implemented.
A new manager also took over the solid waste facility last week, though that move was unrelated to the inspection, Dodge said.
“If you go out and take a look at the facility now, you’ll see the vast improvements that are already being made,” he said.
The January inspection of the transfer station and recycling center was prompted by a citizen’s complaint. The city received official notice of five violations in February in a letter addressed to Mayor Alfonso Ortiz.
Among the problems discovered by the Environment Department were:
• Failure to conduct sanitary recycling operations. Specifically, the inspector discovered that green waste recyclables like tree branches had been mixed with plastic materials, scrap metal, city solid waste and blown litter. The city has been cited for this violation at least four previous times.
• Failure to control litter. The transfer station is supposed to be picking up litter daily. The facility has been cited for this violation six previous times.
• Failure to have a certified operator on site while the facility is open. The Environment Department contends that the facility had been operating without a certified operator for about six months.
• Failure to provide permit and operational records for inspection as required by state solid waste rules.
• Failure to submit necessary documentation for a midterm permit review. The documentation was supposed to have been submitted to the Environment Department by May 28, 2010.
The letter asked the city to explain what is being done to address the violations. It also warns that the Environment Department reserves the right to pursue additional enforcement action, which could include a civil penalty of up to $5,000 a day per violation.
About a week after receiving the Environment Department letter, Mayor Ortiz submitted the city’s response.
Addressing the failure to conduct sanitary recycling operations, Ortiz noted that the facility’s chipper was repaired less than two weeks after the inspection and that the city is adding a position for a second transfer station attendant for closer monitoring.
In an effort to do a better job controlling litter, the city has awarded a bid to Anissa Construction Co. to do improvements to the transfer station. Those improvements, which should be complete in four months, include installing concrete protective walls in the trash dumping room, replacing overhead garage doors and installing concrete aprons in front of all garage doors. Dodge said improvements to the transfer station will cost about $420,000.
Ortiz told the Environment Department that a certified transfer station operator was out to lunch when the inspector showed up. Another certified transfer station operator was on extended sick leave. He added that the city is planning to get additional employees certified.
Addressing another violation, the mayor states that all solid waste employees are now aware of the location of operational records.
And he told the Environment Department that the midterm permit review process is already underway.
Dodge said the city is taking the solid waste issues seriously.
“The last thing I want to do is leave a legacy for future generations to have to take care of ...” he said. “This is just one of those legacies that we’ve inherited that we need to correct.”
He said rate increases approved in July will help fix the problems. Residential customers will see their city garbage fees jump from $15.60 to $20.10 on bills sent out this month. Combined, the increase that went into effect last year and another going into effect now, total about 43 percent for residential customers.
“I believe the mayor and council have stepped up to pass the rates to do what we have to,” Dodge said. “Rate increases are never the popular thing to do, but popular or not we have recognized that it has to happen.”
As for the staffing changes, Lucas Marquez, a former code enforcement officer, was promoted to the position of solid waste manager last week. Alvin Jiron, the previous manager, asked before the inspection to be named recycling coordinator.