New solid waste projects can be an emotional and political drain on a community. Legislative requirements, public backlash, economic issues and the difficulty of defining long-term goals all affect a project's outcome. Indeed, when waste managers decided to build a materials recovery facility (MRF) to serve Tuolumne County, Calif., a rural community in the Sierra foothills, the end result was unforeseeable.

In the late 1980s, officials at Cal Sierra Disposal, Sonora, Calif., began designing a small facility on a split level, 3 1/2-acre lot. The project's main impetus was the 1989 California Assembly Bill 939 (AB 939), which mandated recycling and diversion levels of 25 percent by 1995 and 50 percent by 2000.

Sonora's plan was for Cal Sierra and another local private contractor, Burns Refuse, to haul commercial waste to the facility; recyclables would be recovered from the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream and residual waste would be transferred seven miles to the county-owned Jamestown Landfill.

Defining Needs Permitting began in 1992 but the process was slowed by local obstacles and five personnel changes at the permitting branch of the California Integrated Waste Management Board, Sacramento. In addition, three personnel changes occurred within the local enforcement agency and six different Public Works solid waste administrators came and went. Each change meant familiarizing new people with the project.

Meanwhile, Subtitle D and revised California Title 14 regulations had tremendous impacts on local decision-making. The Jamestown Landfill, which received only 70 tons per day (tpd), was quickly reaching capacity; expanding it would cost residents millions of dollars - driving dump fees as high as $125 per ton. Previously, it had been $19.95 per ton and had increased to $45 in 1995.

In 1992, Tuolumne County issued a request for proposals to privatize MSW management. As a group, Cal Sierra Disposal, the county's two other permitted haulers and the new landfill operator were awarded the contract. Cal Sierra was awarded a 20-year franchise to design, build, own and operate the MRF, as well as a 20-year collection franchise for the City of Sonora and a 20-year collection franchise for Tuolumne County, with 10-year options on both.

Meanwhile, the county wanted to explore out-of-county disposal options. Cal Sierra studied 115 landfills and waste-to-energy facilities in four states. The search was narrowed down to five landfills. For each, Cal Sierra presented the county's Board of Supervisors with operating plans, contingency plans, MRF prices and at-the-curb collection rates.

While the board made its decision, an alternative local landfill option became available. Speculators proposed to convert a 140-acre tailings pond at a recently closed gold mine into a regional landfill and to import 300 to 1,000 tpd of MSW.

Community Concerns With a population of 54,000, this rural county was divided on which solid waste option would most benefit the community. The choices were to expand the existing James-town Landfill, to haul out of county or to support the mine-to-landfill conversion and importing waste.

Understandably, local citizens were frustrated with the Subtitle D requirements and AB 939, which carries $10,000-per-day fines if diversion levels aren't attained. Emotions ran high during this time. The contributing factors included rising garbage rates, rising unemployment due to logging shutdowns and sawmill closures - all driven by environmental legislation - and the loss of more than 300 jobs in the gold mine. Getting the facts to the public was a major hurdle for the county.

To make matters worse, the rapidly filling Jamestown Landfill had long been steeped in controversy. In 1993, landfill issues caused citizens to attempt an unsuccessful recall of all five county supervisors. Not surprisingly, the landfill controversy occupied center stage in the local paper; in the meantime, however, Cal Sierra received the state permit to operate the soon-to-be-built MRF.

In 1994, the County Board of Supervisors held public hearings on the disposal options and, in a unanimous vote, opted for out-of-county disposal. That option was considered to be the least expensive, most environmentally sound and reportedly guaranteed the county at least 30 years of disposal capacity. Contracts could be completed prior to the Jamestown Landfill closure.

The original MRF plans were tossed out. The new facility would have to accommodate public self haulers and allow for efficient loading of residual waste, which would now be hauled 187 miles to the Lockwood Landfill, located 10 miles east of Reno, Nev.

Back To The Drawing Board The design and internal operating plans for the new facility were done in-house by Cal Sierra owner R.D. "Dick" Hanson and Steven "Moose" Jones, former vice president of operations at Norcal Waste Systems. Jones had joined Hanson in May 1993 after 18 years with the San Francisco-based company.

The split level facility would include a 16,400-square-foot MRF/ transfer station on the lower section. The upper pad area, 23 feet above, would house the road, pay station, scale and baled recyclables storage building. The area between the levels would be used for public unloading.

After commercial vehicles are weighed and charged by the ton, they enter one of two 25-foot-tall doors on the building's north side and dump inside the building. Public self-haulers, who are charged by volume, unload on the building's south side in a 140-by-60-foot area. They can back their vehicles into one of 10 stalls and unload trash by tossing it to the tipping floor below. After unloading, the public exits to the right and off the property. This pattern keeps public and commercial units separate at all times.

This venture, at Hanson's insistence, used local subcontractors and vendors whenever possible. Cooper Kessel, a local architect, was the project's design builder. Joel Pluim, a local contractor, was able to build the facility under budget.

With the traffic pattern and building parameters established, it was time to choose equipment and the financing package. Several factors played a role in this process, including seasonal changes. For example, the facility's 70-tpd yearly average of MSW can range from 25 to 165 tpd depending upon the time of year.

Planners decided that waste would be hauled to Lockwood five or six days per week. Because Sonora is located on one side of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Lockwood Landfill is on the other, heavy winter snow storms sometimes close the three major highways between the two facilities. The road closures require waste to be stored for up to four days inside the small building.

Access to trucks and trailers to haul the stored waste to the landfill eliminated the use of specialty trailers. Maximizing payloads for this 374-mile round trip and ensuring legal weight distribution was critical. Consequently, Hanson and Jones opted for a two-ram heavy duty baler to be the facility's centerpiece.

After reviewing their choices, negotiating price and performance conditions and studying specs and drawings, Hanson chose a two-ram baler manufactured by Lindemann Recycling Equipment, Pineville, N.C.; the unit was supplied by Rose Waste, San Jose, Calif.

Features include a versa door, a bale separation door, a sizer, a bale release door, a bale pincher or clamp in plug bale mode, a stamper and fully automated controls. The unit was the first two-ram baler built by Lindemann.

Equipment-Minded Design The baler dimensions were key to the facility's internal design. The building is 180 feet long from east to west. The recovery equipment and baler are located in the 60-foot eastern section, followed by a 100-foot tipping area and a 20-foot bale storage area.

The facility is 80 feet wide, with an additional 20 feet at the eastern end for the office, employee lunchroom, convenience stations, baler and the second-story, 800-square-foot Enviro-House/Cal Sierra Learning Center. The Enviro-House, which is equipped with computers for use by area schools, allows students to perform experiments on use and conservation of water, electricity, heat and refuse.

The MRF's operations are simple. The waste stream is pushed onto an incline feed conveyor, which runs east to west on the facility's south side. The Gruppen conveyor, manufactured in Idaho and supplied by Rose Waste, is three feet wide and unloads onto a four-foot-wide sorting conveyor located at a 90-degree angle running south to north, 17 feet above the MRF floor.

Paper is picked on both sides of the sorting conveyor's first 23 feet. A diversion plate located just past the dual pick area pushes all the material toward the belt's east side, where the next 42 feet of sorting is done. Recovered items are tossed into chutes facing the sorters.

At the belt's end, a magnet pulls metal, and residual waste falls onto a transfer belt. The transfer belt conveys waste westward 72 feet, traveling over the baler and dropping the waste on the pushwall's tipping floor side, which leads to the five-foot-wide baler feed conveyor.

This design aimed for practicality. It fits into the available area, minimizes the sorter positions and allows the flow-through capacity to be doubled by removing the diversion plate and extending the sorter mezzanine to accommodate a full 65 feet of dual-sided picking. By dropping residual waste onto the tipping floor, the baler does not run until early afternoon. The unit also reportedly can bale the residual waste stream in 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours.

Bales eject eastward, under the transfer conveyor, and are picked up with a scale-mounted fork lift and loaded into 45-foot dry vans located just outside the building's east door. Loaded vans are moved off site 500 feet to a yard owned by L.K. Lehman Trucking, which hauls for Cal Sierra.

Recovered recyclables are baled in the morning prior to solid waste deliveries from route trucks. The baled recyclables are stored in a 4,500-square-foot metal building on the facility's upper level. Recyclables are sold to Bill Bluechel of Northern Paper Stock Co. in San Anselmo, Calif., Smurfit Recycling of Sacramento, Gallo Glass Co. of Modesto, Calif., and Sims LMC Metal Recycling of Stockton, Calif.

Once at the 1,500-acre Lockwood Landfill, the baled waste is unloaded using the two Columbia tippers. The landfill, which meets Subtitle D standards, reportedly has more than 200 years of capacity left, at one and one-half times the current fill rate, assuring long-term disposal capacity for Sonora and Tuolumne County residents.

An operation plan had to be submitted to Lockwood Landfill Co. and its home of Washoe County, Nev., before Cal Sierra's contract could be finalized. This detailed plan included topics such as curb collection, transportation to the Cal Sierra MRF, the recovery processes, hazardous and special wastes handling, detailed load checking functions, baling, loading, transportation carrier and the routes the transfer vehicles would travel to the landfill.

Lockwood Landfill's tentative approval to accept Cal Sierra's waste came quickly and was finalized after Peg Schopper from the Washoe Health Department inspected the Cal Sierra MRF in August 1995. Opening day was August 16, 1995, the day after the Jamestown Landfill closed.

Financing The Facility This project was cofunded by two locally owned lending establishments: a full service bank, which took the lead role, and a savings and loan. This arrangement kept the dollars within the community and Cal Sierra was given a long-term loan, which kept the rates down to rate-paying customers. The co-funding arrangement also was a first for the two local lenders.

The Cal Sierra rate for the MRF/ transfer operation with all burden costs is $55.65 per ton. County surcharges to fund solid waste programs, which include monitoring and closure of Jamestown and Groveland Landfills, are added to the $55.65 for a total charge of $83 per ton.

The 25-percent diversion goal has been surpassed in Tuolumne County. With a successful slash program, recycling buy back centers, curbside and commercial recycling programs and the MRF operation, the county currently diverts approximately 51 percent based on the 1990 base year.

Although rural Tuolumne County and Sonora's economic and environmental situations are unique, many of their needs and concerns are universal. As Cal Sierra has demonstrated, small, independent solid waste companies can and do meet the challenges of serving their community in a simple, clean and efficient manner.