What Will Happen to the Ivy Transfer Station?

The Ivy Materials Utilization Center weigh station.

The fate of the Ivy Materials Utilization Center, the solid waste transfer facility on Dick Woods Road in Ivy, will be decided by the end of the year. For western Albemarle, in particular, changes could reduce the availability of services we have long depended on.

Current contractual terms required that notification be given to the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, which operates the facility, in December if Albemarle County intended to change arrangements when the existing RSWA contract expires at the end of June. RSWA is a public utility formed jointly by Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville in 1990.

Rather than give that notice, as it first  seemed inclined to, the Board of Supervisors in January asked the RSWA to negotiate a six-month extension of the current contracts, through the end of 2013, so that the county can investigate the possibility of turning over operations at Ivy to a private company.

County director of planning Mark Graham, who also sits on the board of the RSWA, said the county has informed RSWA that “we want to look at contracting services to see if that would be more cost effective than going through RSWA.

“We talked about the option of closing down Ivy a year ago,” Graham said. “For some people, there aren’t other options than Ivy. There are no private haulers serving their area. Ivy is their only opportunity for proper disposal.”

White Hall District Supervisor Ann Mallek said the board is no longer considering shutting Ivy down, but does want to consider other possibilities for operating it.

“The board wants to keep service at Ivy and McIntire,” said Graham. “It’s a question of how it’s provided. Some services might not be offered.”

Graham said county staffers are working up a request for proposal [RFP] this month that is designed to solicit the interest of private companies such as van der Linde Recycling in Zion’s Crossroads, Waste Management or Republic (formerly known as BFI), the only companies likely to be capable of taking on the task.

“Once the landfill closed, the economics of operating Ivy fell apart. It’s money losing, so the city felt it had better options,” said Graham.

Mark Brownlee

The city’s municipal solid waste [MSW] now is taken by private haulers to van der Linde Recycling, even though the agreement setting up the RSWA requires both the city and county to direct all their solid waste to the Ivy facility so that its tonnage volume generates sufficient income to operate the facility. With the drop in tonnage from the city, Ivy MUC now needs about $300,000 to $400,000 annually in additional support, Graham said.

RSWA director Tom Frederick said the RSWA is now in discussions with Waste Management about extending their contract (which requires them to bring the waste they collect to Ivy) by six months. Waste Management is interested in changing some current terms if it is to going to extend, even for that period, he said. Still, he expects an agreement will be reached.

Ivy MUC now takes in between 70 and 75 tons of MSW per day. It used to be much higher, said manager Mark Brownlee, who also oversees the McIntire Recycling Center in Charlottesville. “The bad economy has reduced volume,” said Brownlee.

Most area private waste haulers are taking their loads to van der Linde Recycling, where the tipping fee is $52 per ton. The fee at Ivy MUC is $66.

Frederick said that Ivy’s price was set higher than prevailing commercial rates because city and county officials wanted the Ivy MUC to generate enough money to support the recycling center on McIntire Road and to the cover the costs of handling hazardous waste collection and amnesty days. At first, he said, RSWA was expected to absorb those costs out its revenue, but in recent years the city and county have paid to cover those special services.

Frederick said that van der Linde may offer even cheaper tipping fees to certain high-volume customers, but those arrangements would be private. Graham said he believes some haulers are being charged $46 a ton at van der Linde. He estimated that the actual cost of operating Ivy on a self-supporting basis would require the fee to be between $88 and $100 per ton. According to Frederick, information from the city shows that it is being charged $39 per ton by van der Linde.

Once the city and county stopped enforcing the terms of the RWSA charter, Frederick said, revenue at Ivy MUC began to decline. Loads hauled to Ivy from Charlottesville currently account for about 15 percent of the weight tickets at the facility, he said. If Waste Management begins hauling to a different transfer facility or landfill once its contract finally ends, Ivy’s daily tonnage will fall by two-thirds.

MSW delivered to the Ivy MUC goes from there to a Waste Management-owned landfill in New Kent County, Graham said. “Waste management has a contract with RSWA to haul to New Kent. At the time that contract was written, five years ago, van der Linde did not exist.”

Graham said both Waste Management and van der Linde Recycling have expressed an interest in running Ivy. Companies will likely be given 30 to 45 days to respond to the RFP, Graham said.

One option would be to reduce Ivy from a transfer station, which must operate with a special permit from the Virginia Department of Environment Quality and can accept any kind of waste, to a “convenience center,” a term of art in the solid waste world that means it would be limited to accepting only “bag-and-tag” household garbage. Commercial trash from private haulers or waste from small businesses and things such as the debris from remodeling your bathroom would have to be hauled somewhere else, most likely to Fluvanna.

“The verdict now is there is not a large demand for commercial waste handling at Ivy,” said Graham. “Ninety-five percent of solid waste is being collected by private haulers. Ivy is used by residential customers and some small businesses who have an occasional need.”

Frederick said that the idea of privatizing Ivy MUC also came up three years ago when the city was still participating in the founding agreement. “Several companies initially expressed an interest, but as the deadline neared for bids, they dropped out. We did receive one bid, but when started talking to the company about details, they withdrew their bid.”

After the privatization concept came up again last fall, RWSA submitted a budget for how it would operate Ivy in the future with the same services available there now. In a memorandum to the supervisors Frederick said that the RWSA would need an annual subsidy of about $290,000.

“We’re a public agency, so we responded with a budget,” said Frederick. “It’s an estimate budget. Our track record is that we perform better than our budget plan.  But we can’t give firm prices because our assets are owned by people in different jurisdictions. They are not under the control of one entity.

“The county has a right to do it with a private company if they want to, but our organizational agreement has not been followed. We can’t do strategic planning. We just end up postponing decisions. This has been going on for years now.

“Our employees [at Ivy] do a good job,” said Frederick. “They use some old equipment that needs to be replaced. We think our proposal is a lean proposal. Very lean. It challenges us. We want to be as economical as we can be, but we have to be able to accomplish the job, too. We’re cheaper than what [consultant] Draper Aden’s report estimates.”

Frederick said that between 260 and 300 commercial customers, such as contractors, landscapers and various other small businesses, now depend on the Ivy facility.

The RSWA proposed two options: one, running a small convenience center that uses compactors on household trash, and the other, maintaining the current set-up. In either option, Ivy MUC would be open four days a week for 9.5 hours per day. The county would agree to cover any deficits and would be reasonable about allowing fee increases. The RSWA would continue to operate McIntire Recycling Center and would negotiate opening a similar center at Ivy. If Ivy is privatized, Frederick said the RSWA may not be able to afford to operate the McIntire facility.

The RSWA’s 13 employees would be reduced to six or possibly seven, depending on who is responsible for hauling waste to a landfill. Another employee might be needed if a recycling center is established at Ivy. The RSWA will retain its DEQ permit. Frederick said that DEQ officials had strongly advised the RSWA to hang on to its permit. In our region, counties typically have a transfer station or landfill, a place DEQ can monitor, that receives waste from dispersed convenience centers.

A private operator at Ivy would have to apply for a new permit and go through a public hearing process.

The RWSA also handles caretaking responsibilities on the closed part of the Ivy landfill, mowing, preventing erosion and carrying out groundwater tests, among other duties. According to the terms on which the landfill closed, it must be monitored for 30 years. The current Ivy crew also cleans three miles of the roadsides along Dick Woods Road every workday. And at the MUC, the yard is tidy and the people are friendly.

The RSWA proposal now awaits developments with private companies.