The trucks are fueled; their CB radios tested.
For days, Buffalo street sanitation drivers have been practicing behind the Broadway Garage using a huge steel ramp assembled by city welders to dump their garbage onto tractor-trailers for shipment to a Lewiston landfill.
Squads of city workers will deploy Monday on a project that is expected to save $720,000 over the next nine months, offering the opportunity to trim up to 5 percent from the city's controversial $141 annual garbage fee, according to Masiello administration officials.
Occasionally, their preparations have resembled an army mobilizing for battle, according to those taking part.
The mission is to recapture a huge savings in city disposal costs. Instead of paying a contractor $17.50 a ton to haul garbage to the Lewiston landfill, Buffalo will begin direct hauling of up to half the city's garbage using city drivers, a mobile ramp and four leased tractor-trailers.
If all goes as expected, disposal costs will be cut by up to $14 per ton, officials claim.
"The overall goal is to reduce the user fee to where it's not a big cost in a household budget," said Streets Sanitation Commissioner Vincent J. LoVallo. "The only way the city can lower the fee is to direct haul its garbage and increase the rate of recycling."
Streamlining city garbage handling seemed like a no-brainer to University Council Member Kevin J. Helfer, who issued a 15-page study more than two years ago that called for direct hauling.
Helfer studied operations at the
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city's South Ogden Street transfer station, where city garbage trucks go to dump their loads. The garbage is picked up again and loaded onto tractor-trailers operated by the city's contractor, CID Refuse Disposal. CID then trucks the wastes to the landfill.
"We were handling it twice," Helfer said. "We were picking it up and dumping it on the ground, and then picking it up again. Anytime you do that, you're wasting money."
Under the new system, a mobile ramp will be taken to various industrial locations where the city's 16-ton garbage trucks will rendezvous and dump their loads into the tractor-trailers equipped with special "moving floors" that help handle wastes.
The goal is to eliminate the need for the South Ogden Street transfer station and the contractor's $17.50 per ton hauling fee, officials say.
"It's . . . something I've fought for since May of 1995, and really they're doing half of what I'd like to see, but it's a darn good start," Helfer said.
"When we go to full-blown direct haul, it will mean a 10 percent savings for the ratepayers," he added.
But a CID spokesman said Buffalo officials are chasing what he called "fool's gold."
CID's contract, which runs out next July, calls for the company to haul Buffalo's solid wastes, which total about 150,000 tons a year.
CID attorney Anthony P. Nosek called the direct hauling unfair to his company.
Nosek has been negotiating with city officials over the impact of the city's hauling plans on CID, but company officials have not yet decided how to react, he said.
"It is . . . utter, abject nonsense," he said, questioning the city's figures on how much it will save. "Their numbers are . . . ridiculous."
"I know for a fact that there is not that much profit built into the whole contract, much less half of it," he added.
James M. Milroy, the city's budget director, describes direct-hauling as just one of a number of cost savings set in motion last year.
"Prior to the user fee, nobody ever added up the entire cost of waste disposal. And once we did that, people were shocked," he said.
Milroy said officials who have studied the waste disposal system believe they can begin to cut the garbage fee as early as next year.
Under the old system, he said, the city had "waste disposal budgeted in three departments and four different divisions -- one was paying for tires, another was paying for the disposal contract and nobody was focusing on the whole cost."
When officials finally added it all up, they counted nearly $18.5 million in costs.
Since that time, they have streamlined the system to cut nearly $4 million, not counting the projected savings from direct hauling, he said.