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Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation

Persistence Produces a Transfer Station Success Story

Planning and Designing the Transfer Station

It took the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation ten years to plan and build a transfer station, but their persistence paid off. The northeastern Oregon reservation now has a successful waste management system in place that is proving to be well worth the wait.

Tribal leaders first began to explore disposal alternatives in the 1980s, when they realized that the tribal landfill was filling up. They also realized that the existing landfill did not meet the new federal requirements scheduled to go into effect in 1991. The leaders considered building a new landfill or incinerator, but decided that tribal members did not generate enough waste to justify either of these options. In addition, the tribes recognized they could not afford to purchase the large tract of land needed, install the required liner system, and maintain a new landfill. Instead, they decided to construct a transfer station.

To begin, tribal leaders partnered with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in 1995 to update the tribal Solid Waste Ordinance to include provisions that support a transfer station. The new ordinance established a waste collection system and gave tribal officials power to enforce a ban on illegal dumping.

As part of the planning phase, tribal leaders visited three working transfer stations to gather information. They also hired a private firm to complete a feasibility study, business plan, household hazardous waste (HHW) plan, and solid waste management plan. The feasibility study laid out the siting requirements, identified short- and long-term goals, highlighted potential obstacles, and listed competitors (i.e., transfer stations in the surrounding area). The study even accounted for future expansion of the tribes’ casino and its impacts on transfer station sizing. According to Bonnie Burke, operations manager of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, “The feasibility study was useful. We were trying out a new type of waste disposal and needed to know how to do it.”

Tribal leaders used study results to select a site and evaluate transfer station designs. They decided to locate the transfer station on seven acres of land adjacent to the reservation and next to a major interstate to attract customers from surrounding counties and make hauling easy. The tribes hired a second private firm to design the transfer station and write an operations manual, while the original firm helped the tribes write grants to obtain construction funding.

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Securing Funding and Constructing the Transfer Station

Final transfer station construction costs totaled $1.3 million, and casino revenues could cover only part of these costs. Realizing additional funds were needed, the tribes looked to the federal government for financial assistance. The tribes applied for and received a $350,000 Indian Community Development Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and a $196,000 grant from the Administration for Native Americans (ANA). The tribes also received and a $25,000 grant from the private JELD-WEN Foundation. In 1999, the tribes decided to make the transfer station a top priority, designating $200,000 of tribal funds for the project. In response, the Indian Health Service (IHS) provided $150,000 under the sanitation deficiency system. The tribes then used a $564,000 loan from the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service to pay for the rest of the project.

Through a competitive bidding process, the tribes chose a private contractor to build the transfer station. The tribes required Colville Construction to hire Native Americans for the project, when possible. As part of the contract, the tribes required the contractor to hire local Native American workers to the greatest extent possible. If the contractor could not fill its needs locally, it was required to attempt to hire individuals from other tribes.

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Transfer Station Operations and Waste Collection

In 2002, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation opened their transfer station. The main building is a 7,200-square-foot metal structure with four bay doors in the front for vehicles to move through and two levels with cement floors. Cars and trucks drive in at the top and dump trash onto the upper tipping floor. Oregon DEQ trained transfer station employees to screen the trash and pull out inappropriate materials such as tires. After screening, the employees use a backhoe to push trash over the edge of the tipping floor into a trailer. The backhoe then uses a special blade to compact the waste in the trailer. Finally, a private waste contractor hauls the trailer to a landfill.

The transfer station also accepts tires, car batteries, and HHW in a separate section. The tribes pay private companies to haul away the tires and car batteries. Oregon DEQ paid for a consultant to visit the reservation and teach transfer station employees how to safely separate HHW from the municipal solid waste stream and store it in an HHW containment facility. DEQ also helped the tribes draft an HHW management plan.

Currently, the tribes are working with IHS to obtain funds to expand the transfer station to include a 75-by-100-foot building to collect, sort, and bale recyclables. The tribes would also like to construct a large-scale composting facility and purchase equipment to manage their own construction and demolition debris.

In addition, the tribes operate a curbside collection service that costs tribal members $22.70 per month. Tribal employees use trucks to pick up waste from more than 800 subscribers and carry it to the transfer station. The tribes also allow tribal members to bring waste directly to the transfer station and pay for disposal services on a per-pound basis. The tribes set aside seven percent of the revenue generated through collection and tipping fees for maintenance and repair of the transfer station. The tribal transfer station hopes to expand its customer base beyond tribal residents and businesses because it is large enough to handle additional waste.

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Educating the Community

Teddi Bronson, recycling coordinator for the tribes, educates the community about recycling to reduce the tribes’ disposal costs. As a part of this effort, she visits the tribal Head Start facility and daycare center to teach children about proper waste disposal and recycling. “Garbage monsters” are one highlight of the tribes’ solid waste education program. Children in the Head Start program draw monsters’ faces on paper shopping bags and then use the bags to pick up litter outside. The monsters literally eat garbage.

For more information about solid waste management on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, contact Bonnie Burke or Teddi Bronson at 541 276-4040.

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