The Forum to be held at Ft Bragg, NC January 12-14 will bring together representatives from 40 installations to discuss and learn sustainable concepts. I applaud Ft Bragg and its ability to host such an event which will bring new ideas to our community and will hopefully contribute to the longevity of Ft Bragg and to our economy. I have noticed that some of Ft Bragg’s environmental enthusiasts boast that Bragg leads the Army in sustainable practices and innovative ideas. I don’t doubt that it does a good job when you look at collective “sustainability” but I don’t agree that they are leading the way in the waste management portion of that collective effort. I have to ask the question: Where is private industry and its experts? Let’s look at some facts:
- Bragg has just started recycling C&D waste: A little less than 10 years ago, a demolition company from California was in the middle of a law suit with the Corp of Engineers and Ft Bragg. The suit stemmed from a contract requirement that instructed the contractor to “recycle to the maximum extent possible”. After all, the project was for the removal of 86 single family houses of which most were occupied by military families at the time the contract was awarded. Since the houses were in good shape, the contractor, following the specs devised a plan to relocate most if not all the houses off base, thus recycling the units in tact. This would have saved more than 25,000 cubic yards of non-hazardous waste (C&D) from going into the base’s landfill. Ft Bragg balked at the contractors plan, forced the contractor to demolish the units and dispose of the more than 1,000 loads of waste in the Bragg landfill. The contractor sued for breech of contract and was awarded damages including interest in excess of $1,000,000. Assuming Bragg learned a lot from the contractor and his perseverance in the legal process, they have come a long way since that award was made about five years ago!
- Bragg has been given some leeway with the Army’s Sustainable Management of Waste in Military Construction, Renovation and Demolition Activities: There are some key factors in the policy which was crafted at the highest level from the Pentagon in response to the US Dept of Interiors policy that required the recycling of construction waste. The Army bolstered the DOI’s policy by adding higher percentages of recycling and other critical points. The policy which went into effect in 2006 has eight program requirements of which one deals with the use of the Ft Bragg Landfill. The requirement stipulates (paraphrased for brevity): “An Army-owed landfill may be used by a contractor for waste generated under a contract, contingent on the lack of alternative disposal sites within a reasonable driving distance [50-100 miles], and the payment of a fee, which is equivalent to the tipping fee prevailing in the area or the full life-cycle cost of the disposal site whichever is less.” Bragg generally has not supported the use of local recycling facilities and has directed contractors in the recent past to dispose of all waste not separated for recycling on-site in the bases landfill. Bragg also has ignored the requirement to charge a tip fee for the use of the base’s landfill.
I assume the justification is that if they charge a fee, then the contractor will include that cost in his contract price which ultimately is paid by the taxpayers anyways – so why create the loop? Right? Well, there are two problems inherent in this argument:
A. Life-cycle cost or the cost of replacement is ignored. The pentagon has indicated that the Federal Government will not be permitting any more landfills. As Bragg’s land becomes scarcer, what once was a seemingly useless piece of property is property that could have been used for something other than a landfill. The other problem is that if the policy allows the continued use of the existing landfill until the landfills capacity is exacerbated, then it would seem logical that any and all [see policy excerpts above] steps would be implemented to prolong its use.
B. The use of a “free” disposal option thwarts the foundation of the effort to recycle, which is cost avoidance. It is this premise that the authors of the policy have required the base’s contractors to use local recycling facilities – or pay a fee for the use of the base’s landfill. Research has shown that most contractors will recycle if the cost is not considerably higher than not recycling. Free verses $40 per ton will perpetuate a cheaper to dispose mentality and drive a much lower percentage of waste recovery from a project site and fill up the bases existing landfill much quicker!
- Private industry seems to be missing from Bragg’s sustainable C&D waste management practices: There are times when government needs to lead the way for improvement and betterment of the whole. Any progress or direction of which private industry does not embrace in a free will fashion is usually a candidate to use the government’s money to promote the advancement. However, recycling of C&D waste is not one that falls into that category. Contrary to that argument, the Army’s policy stipulates that bases should rely on the experiences of commercial industry to advance their recycling programs. Private industry has been recovering recyclables from C&D waste for many years. Concrete has been crushed, wood ground and mixed waste separated for cost benefit for decades. Bragg does not seem willing or amicable to the advancements and advantages of using private industry to handle, separate and process its C&D waste. There are reputable, local HubZone firms capable of performing most of the very tasks that Bragg is using valuable tax dollars to fund.
I encourage the leaders of Bragg and the forty other installations from across the country to involve local industry. If the experts exist, then let them do the dirty work and spend our tax dollars on cutting-edge concepts. Government sometimes has to do the job, but it does not automatically mean that it can do the best job! Has a forum ever been held, inviting private industry to offer suggestions and to learn how it could assist the government in meeting its sustainability goals?