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St. Regis Mohawk Tribe

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From Conceptualization to Construction: Creating a Transfer Station on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation

Background

During the early 1990s, residents on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, located in New York, expressed dissatisfaction with current waste disposal options. Residents complained to the Tribal Council and the St. Regis Mohawk Environment Division that the fee paid to a private waste hauler for curbside collection service was too high. In response to these complaints, the tribe hired a consultant in 1994 to conduct a solid waste management feasibility study. The consultant visited 100 homes (8 to 10 percent of the homes on the reservation) and all of the approximately 100 businesses on the reservation to identify solid waste management concerns. The feasibility study revealed that most of the community supported establishing a tribally owned and operated waste disposal facility.

As a first step, the Environmental Division established a tribally operated, pay-as-you-throw, curbside collection service. While the tribe planned to build a transfer station, the new curbside collection program had to temporarily rely on a transfer station located off of the reservation.

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Transfer Station Design

After establishing the tribal collection program, the Environmental Division turned its attention to designing the new transfer station. First, the division conducted a waste audit and determined that tribal members generate between six and seven tons of waste each day—not enough waste to justify building a large transfer station with a tipping floor or surge pit. The study also revealed that half of the tribe’s waste could be recycled. Based on these findings, division staff searched for the most appropriate design for a transfer station and recycling drop-off facility.

To continue its strong working relationship with the tribal council, the Environmental Division invited council members to participate in the design process. Laura Weber, director of solid waste management for the St. Regis Mohawk Environmental Division, explained, “If you can obtain support from one tribal council member, your idea will take off.” The division organized site visits to several transfer stations. These visits allowed council members and division staff to see different equipment in action and provided design and operation ideas.

photo of transfer station

Finally, they found the perfect design at a waste conference. The tribe chose to install two 53 cubic yard, modular, self-contained units. The units are totally enclosed which prevents ice and snow from accumulating inside the unit. The units are also leak-, fire-, and animal-proof. Residents can deposit waste through a side door. The waste collection trucks empty waste by hydraulically lifting the top door. Purchase and installation of these units requires 30 to 35 percent less startup funds than a typical transfer station.

The transfer station facility also will include a gated entrance, an unpaved road, a vehicle scale, a drop-off area for recyclables, and an operations building. The operations building will house the equipment for operating the scale, a recyclables baler, and administrative space for track transfer station operations.

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Funding

After choosing a transfer station design, the Environmental Division worked with the tribal council to secure construction funding. The Environmental Division convinced the tribal council to make solid waste management its top priority, which helped the tribe receive Indian Health Service (IHS) funds. The Environmental Division staff attended tribal council meetings and used pictures of open dumps on the reservation to educate council members about the importance of proper solid waste management. According to Ms. Weber, “Persistence paid off. Tribal council members trust Environmental Division staff to bring important issues before them. The pictures of open dumps strengthened our argument.”

Ms. Weber also has developed a close working relationship with the tribe’s IHS engineer. In addition to telling Ms. Weber about IHS funding opportunities, he pointed her to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) Indian Community Development Block Grant (ICDBG). After obtaining a copy of another tribe’s grant application for guidance, Ms. Weber applied for an ICDBG. The tribe was initially turned down. Not willing to take no for an answer, Ms. Weber called the HUD office to find out why her application had been refused. A member of the HUD staff sent back her application with an evaluation form. Ms. Weber used this evaluation to revise the application, and resubmitted it. HUD subsequently approved the application and awarded the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe an ICDBG.

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe also received funding from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for the project. USDA contacted Ms. Weber and encouraged her to apply for Rural Utility Service funding. The grant application was long and difficult, but Ms. Weber completed it by asking the USDA’s regional project officer to walk her through it. After USDA awarded the grant, Ms. Weber worked closely with her regional USDA engineer to ensure the tribe complied with all of USDA’s requirements.

Ms. Weber offered the following advice to other tribes: “If your regional representatives are not responsive, invite them to your reservation to build a relationship with them.” The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe conducts a cultural sensitivity workshop—which is a weekend program designed to help individuals from outside the community understand the tribal perspective.

photo of contractor servicing transfer station

At the beginning of 2002, the tribe put the contract for building the transfers out for bid and selected a contractor. Unfortunately, this contractor could not secure the required federal bonds in the allotted time period. To circumvent this problem, the tribe divided the work into smaller projects and put each job out for bid separately. Ms. Weber hopes construction will be completed and the transfer station open in January 2003. She offered the following advice to other tribes coping with similar challenges, “Be persistent, patient, and flexible. You never know what you will come across.”

After the transfer station opens, tribal members will be able to opt out of the curbside collection system by bringing their trash directly to the transfer station. The tribe will use revenue from its Pay-As-You-Throw program and the sale of recyclable items to fund transfer station operation and maintenance activities.

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Outreach and Education

While the tribe searches for contractors, Ms. Weber focuses on outreach and education to residents and other tribes. She visits schools on the reservation and uses interactive stories to teach children about proper solid waste disposal practices. She also received funding from EPA Region 2 to hold solid waste management training workshops for other tribes. As part of this project, Ms. Weber developed a solid waste handbook. Chapter one presents information to assist tribes in collecting data about their current waste management practices. Chapter two assists tribes with developing and implementing new solid waste programs. At Ms. Weber’s workshops, attendees indicated that funding was the largest problem for them. Consequently, the Solid Waste Handbook includes a lengthy section on funding.

Finally, the St. Regis Mohawk tribe is developing a Solid Waste Management Plan to place its transfer station in a broader context. According to Ms. Weber, “A solid waste management plan is important because it gives your tribe a road map for the future. It forces you to set solid waste management goals and think about how to achieve them.” Ms. Weber recommends that other tribes develop a solid waste management plan before building a transfer station.

More information about the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe's transfer station and solid waste program Exit EPA.

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