In the Spotlight

The City of Salem, VA’s Transfer Station: Building a Cost-Effective Facility

Since the facility opened in 2006, the City of Salem’s transfer station has taken on economic challenges with innovative ideas and new opportunities.

Founded in 1802, the City of Salem, VA is situated in the Shenandoah Valley between the Allegheny and Blue Ridge Mountains on the Roanoke River. The City owns and operates its water system, electric distribution system and sewer system.1 Opened in Summer 2006, the City of Salem’s 18,000 square foot transfer station is directly across the street from its previous location. The old transfer station started out as a waste-to-energy (WTE) facility where it operated from 1978 to 1993 as a WTE facility until its transition. In 1993, when Salem closed its landfill, it also transformed its WTE facility into a transfer station where it operated until 2006. The current location has more room to deal with the solid waste and also handles the recycling duties for the city. The facility has 18 full-time as well as a few part-time employees.

The facility handles the City of Salem’s waste and also contracts with Botetourt County. They are also working with another county to get an agreement to deal with their waste. Dealing with commercial waste and working with private commercial haulers that come in from a 25 to 30 mile radius, the City of Salem itself generates about 100 tons of waste per day while the facility handles a total of about 350 to 400 tons per day.

Economic Opportunities

Although the waste stream has dropped off due to the economy, resulting in the loss of some revenue, according to the transfer station’s Director, Jim Fender, they have looked for other opportunities to boost revenue and offset the loss, particularly in their waste recycling programs. “We lost a lot of construction debris due to home development dropping off. We looked at recycling materials that we were accumulating or recovering and looked to see if we could find better markets or clean up some of the materials. At one point all of our scrap metal was mixed together and we didn’t have time to segregate them to aluminum or stainless steel, etc. So we’ve found that since the waste stream has dropped off, there is more time to scrutinize the material—we can break it down into different metals and bring in more money than just as regular scrap metal. We also looked at ways to maximize our loads when we hauled out scrap metal. We started compacting it so we could get more on the load, which cut down on the number of trips, in turn saving fuel and labor costs, and maintenance on the vehicles.”

Not only does the City of Salem’s transfer station look for unique economic opportunities, but they are also a member of the Clean Valley Council, which gives them exposure in the community. Located in the Roanoke Valley, this organization operates off a state grant and organizes with all of the valley governments in doing waterway cleanups and putting together Clean Valley Day, an event where groups of volunteers pick up litter and participate in educational programs for local schools discussing what’s going on in the waste industry and how things operate.

In addition, since the station’s operators are required by law to obtain a continuing education during each certification period, management tries to send some of the employees who are in potential management positions to training often in order to become certified operators. Staff has been sent to independent training companies that provide training throughout the state as well as the eastern part of the U.S., and have attended trade shows, in particular a grassroots organization called the Southwest Virginia Solid Waste Management Association, which takes on the central part of VA to west VA and eastern TN. “They have an annual trade show focusing on training and they are certified by the state of VA to provide continuing education classes for operators. That extra education has helped our employees in the understanding of our operations,” says Fender.

Regulation Compliance

Complying with regulation changes is one of the most difficult challenges they have faced, according to Fender. “When you look at the regulation changes, it is important to understand what they are trying to achieve. The way we overcome the regulation changes is to first of all look at what we’re doing and where we are complying with the changes rather than jumping into it. Many times, when you look at the regulation changes, you’re already complying with a portion of it. Once you establish that, then you look at where you need to make changes and how to do that in the most economic manner.”

The Southeastern Waste Management Association has a legislative watchdog committee that keeps an eye on the regulatory changes and, says Fender, with the age of the Internet, you can look up what the state and general assemblies are doing. Another resource is the

Virginia Municipal League which has certain committees dealing with specific topics like financing and environment; they also keep an eye on the legislation. “We have a meeting annually to discuss the legislative package that we’d like to see go into the assembly,” says Fender.

Building a Transfer Station

Although developing the City of Salem’s current transfer station was a long and very involved process, Fender is especially proud of the finished product. “We were supposed to be in the old transfer station for five years (from 1993 – 1998) but didn’t finish the new one until 2006; during that time we were able to do a lot of research.” The committee/decision makers involved Fender, who was in charge of the layout and operations; however, he still had to present his ideas to city management and the city council for approval. Selecting an engineering firm included Fender, the city engineer, the assistant city manager and the finance director, all of whom interviewed and selected the engineering firm and the facility design. Fender says that in order to choose the best design for the new facility, he visited about 25 to 30 other transfer stations, looking at how their floor plans were laid out, the property available and how all the different areas fit together. “At the old facility, part of our recycling program was run on one piece of property and the transfer station on another piece of property—it was kind of hit and miss because the transfer station wasn’t really designed to be a transfer station, so we wanted to put all the best features of all the facilities that we visited combined into the space we had available.”

And that included choosing just the right equipment for the new facility. Taking responsibility for the equipment selection, Fender first made a visit to a facility in Raleigh, NC to look at a particular piece of equipment, and then went to an Idaho facility to compare. After that visit, it was discovered that the equipment was very similar and was selected after seeing it in operation in Idaho—at that time it was the only facility operating that type of equipment. After tentatively selecting that equipment, Fender wanted to get its maintenance background and went back after it was in operation for a year and then two years to evaluate. At that point, Fender and the engineering firm took a trip to Idaho to give it a final evaluation and it was determined to have the best maintenance record.

In all, it took about eight years from about the time that the old transfer station was supposed to have closed until the new facility actually opened, allowing time for committee decisions, engineering firm and equipment selection, design development and construction of the facility. “The time it took to build the facility was well worth it,” says Fender. “Other than normal maintenance such as mowing the grass and maintaining the pavement, the facility has been basically maintenance free since we opened in 2006. When we started the process, we wanted a facility that would be as maintenance free as possible for 20 years. In addition, during the selection of the design, we didn’t use any asphalt—all our pavement is concrete and in line with the Virginia Department of Transportation.”

Economic Impact

Although Fender says that their number one problem is budget issues, he is keeping optimistic about the industry and economy. “Being a local government, we are all going through hiring freezes. I’ve got some open positions vacated from people who retired, so we’re not working with a full staff. We also are looking at other ways to cut costs in our budgets—every department in the city has faced that. However, I believe that the waste industry is the first place you notice a recession and a recovery. Many smaller companies are especially beginning to buy containers, which means they are looking at enlarging their service areas and taking on new customers.”

Currently the City of Salem’s transfer station is doing well. “We would like to get more waste in because it helps the economics of the facility, but we’ve noticed over the last month and a half that the recycling markets have picked up and we are starting to see more construction debris. From my observations, the economy is beginning to gain ground once again.”

For more information about the City of Salem, VA’s Transfer Station, contact James M. Fender Jr., Director of Solid Waste Management, at (540) 375-3052 or [email protected].