As news stories go, it’s hard to find many that are shorter or more conventional than a May 8 article published by the West Volusia Beacon in Florida: “Waste Pro Driver Earns $10K Bonus—Twice.” In the story’s five sentences, readers learn that the lucky garbage truck driver won Waste Pro’s Driver Bonus award for the second time in seven years and that it is given out only to those “who have a safe driving record for at least three years, have no customer complaints, keep their truck clean, have no accidents or incidents and don’t miss work.”
Not very exciting, perhaps. But it should serve as a reminder that the waste industry extends beyond the borders of materials recovery facilities or waste transfer stations, and that the roads leading to and from these facilities are also part of today’s NIMBY battles.
I’m seeing this in Danbury, Conn., where a local waste firm, MSW Associates, is in the process of obtaining the necessary permits from Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The Stamford Advocate reported on a public hearing held recently by DEEP officials, and it’s a textbook example of the fights that take place over waste facilities: posturing local politicians; an angry crowd and fears over odor, safety, and property values. As the newspaper noted, “More than 100 people turned up for [the hearing]… everyone who spoke about the plan opposed it.” That’s a case in point for the importance of having supporters in attendance at these meetings, but I’ve already written that column (and will be writing it, yet again, soon enough).
What caught my interest in the article was that, in addition to the usual concerns, the topic of truck traffic was raised repeatedly. As the Advocate notes: “Citing the narrow, winding roads that the 466 heavy trucks projected to use the transfer station each day would have to traverse, they also expressed grave concerns about the impact that increased traffic would have on their health and safety. ‘It’s not if a tragedy is going to happen, it’s when a tragedy is going to happen,’ said Shelter Rock Road resident Catherine LeRose.”
According to the article, other audience members argued that “Travel lanes on those roads ranged in width from only 10 ft. to 12 ft. in each direction, and [they] questioned how the trash trucks, which are more than 8 ft. wide, would be able to pass each other on tight curves. Other residents noted that the roads would be particularly congested in the morning, when trucks would be lined up outside the station waiting to dump their loads.”
Increasingly, the roads and drivers related to proposed waste facilities are becoming the next front in the NIMBY wars. For controversial waste facilities, as well as other heavy industrial developments like rock quarries and factories, these are potential sticking points that will be raised by opponents and will have to be overcome: Are the roads safe? Can they bear the traffic? How about the drivers? Can they be trusted with huge rigs hurtling along rural paths never intended for such use?
It’s that last question that makes a safe driving program like Waste Pro’s Driver Bonus award program such a great idea—and one that should be mimicked by any others in the business who haven’t implemented such a plan yet. One of the first things that smart NIMBY opponents will do is check a company’s driver history for accidents or incidents: a crash, a case of road rage or (the Holy Grail) a driver found to be driving under the influence.
Incentivizing drivers to be safe, cautious and courteous on the road isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also a smart move in a world in which past mistakes can be dredged up and aired at a public hearing. It’s impossible to guarantee completely that truck drivers will never have a fender-bender or irritate the minivan in the other lane, but proper policies can make these incidents rare exceptions on an otherwise spotless record. When permit time arrives, conscientious developers will be glad to be able to point to such a history.