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Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians seal

Planning Leads to Transfer Station Success

The Planning Phase

When the federal RCRA Subtitle D landfill regulations went into effect, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, located in North Carolina, closed its landfill and constructed a transfer station. The tribe received a small grant from EPA for planning purposes. Before drawing up a blue print, tribal employees gathered information on current and future waste generation rates, disposal options, and community concerns. This information allowed engineers to site and size the transfer station properly. Calvin Murphy, who works for the tribe's utilities department, believes that the transfer station is successful because his tribe planned it so carefully.

As the first step, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians explored three disposal options: partnering with a private waste hauler or neighboring county to collect and haul waste off of the reservation, building a landfill on the reservation, or building a transfer station on the reservation. Tribal leaders ruled out hauling waste off of the reservation because they wanted to maintain control over the tribe’s affairs and avoid jurisdictional problems. They also decided against building a landfill, because it would have been too costly and required too much land. Once it decided to pursue a transfer station, the tribe began considering design options.

Mr. Murphy emphasizes that it is critical to “know your waste stream” before breaking ground on a transfer station. Before considering facility size and design, the tribe conducted a household survey to determine how much and what kinds of waste tribal members produce. In addition to waste generation rates, the study also revealed that the community produced large quantities of cardboard. Knowing a profitable market existed for this material, the tribe decided to recycle its cardboard. The tribe also estimated future waste generation rates, factoring in waste from a casino it planned to build.

Next, tribal leaders began to search for a site for the transfer station. With tribal council approval, the tribe decided to build its transfer station next to the old landfill. Advantages of this site were that the tribe already owned the property and that it was large enough to accommodate the transfer station.

While the tribe selected its site, neighboring Swaine and Jackson Counties also were searching for new disposal options. Both counties discussed using the tribe’s transfer station and agreed to contribute funds to transfer station planning activities. The tribe also formed partnerships with IHS and state agencies, which recommended visiting existing transfer stations in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Swaine and Jackson Counties helped pay for these information gathering trips.

After the counties determined their waste generation rates and saw initial plans for the transfer station, they had to decide whether or not to continue partnering with the tribe. Swaine County decided to use the tribe’s transfer station while Jackson County opted to partner with another county to build a landfill. Mr. Murphy cautions tribes against counting on waste from off of the reservation. When sizing its transfer station, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians concentrated on its own waste. He also cautions tribes against building a transfer station for profit, as “they might not ever see a return on their investment.”

During the information gathering phase, the tribe also investigated tipping fees at several area landfills. Based on this research, the tribe negotiated an agreement with a landfill in South Carolina.

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Transfer Station Operations

Scale operators weigh each collection truck as it enters the facility. After leaving the scale house, the vehicles proceed to the main transfer station building to empty their loads onto the tipping floor. Transfer station employees examine the trash and pull out anything that doesn’t belong (e.g., tires, car batteries, Freon canisters). A front-end loader pushes the waste off the end of the tipping floor into a transfer trailer and compacts it. The front and rear axles of the trailer sit on a scale and transfer station operators make sure that the truck contains at least 20 tons of waste before it leaves. The transfer trucks are weighed periodically on certified interstate weigh station scales and at the Palmetto landfill in South Carolina, which allows the tribe to ensure that the landfill and transfer station scales are properly calibrated.

The tribe uses the Cherokee Boys Club Incorporated, a tribal trucking company, to haul waste to the landfill. The company is paid on a per mile basis. Mr. Murphy said, “Tribes should look for a good hauler that is in it for the long-term.” He suggested price shopping for a reliable hauler and recommended calling multiple counties and private companies.

The transfer station can handle 300 tons of waste per day and is open seven days a week during the summer. During the winter, it is closed to the general public some days, but continues to accept trash from regular haulers. The tribe offers tribal members free door-to-door pickup once a week. Tribal businesses receive free pickup on a daily basis. The tribe also collects recyclables from residents and businesses for free. Tribal members can even call for free white goods pickup service. Mr. Murphy explained that the tribe decided to subsidize collection services to discourage residents from dumping illegally.

The tribe also chose to co-locate composting and recycling operations with the transfer station. Mr. Murphy noted that co-location helps the tribe track source reduction and waste generation rates. By weighing each incoming waste load and each outgoing load of waste, recyclable materials, and organic materials destined for composting, the tribe calculates material diversion rates achieved through recycling and composting.

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Employee Training

The tribe’s transfer station operators received extensive training. Seven employees took SWANA’s transfer station management class and became certified transfer station managers. While Mr. Murphy felt that the class was extremely helpful for large transfer station operators, he thought that it might be less useful for employees of small transfer stations. In addition to the SWANA training, several of the scale operators completed the North Carolina Department of Agriculture’s certification program for weigh masters. Mr. Murphy said that having state certified transfer station managers and scale operators gave the tribe credibility when working with the counties and private haulers.

For more information about the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ transfer station, contact Calvin Murphy at 828 497-1805.

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