Talking Trash with Mary Suhm, Because You Have Not Heard the Last of Flow Control

Categories: City Hall
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Last we looked, the council tabled till after its summer vacation a proposal from Marys Suhm and Nix to force all the solid-waste haulers in the city to dump their trash at the McCommas Bluff Landfill rather than one of the dozen other sites in the region. The city manager and head of Sanitation Services, respectively, insist that not only will the so-called "flow control" proposal generate upwards of $17 million in additional revenue annually, but create tons of energy via a methane-capturing system out at the landfill that the city can use and, of course, sell. Which it already does. Just, not as much as City Hall says will be available. One day.

Anyway. As we've noted several times in recent months, the waste haulers are decidedly opposed to the idea, insisting, among other things, that it will lead to "high landfill prices," which will "lead to smaller companies illegally diverting their waste to other landfills or dumping it illegally." And folks living in, and representing, the southern sector fear all that extra trash and traffic being diverted into the part of town. As Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell told the Chronicle of Higher Education earlier this month, "Economic development can come in many forms, but it starts with people being properly nourished -- that's food, not refuse."

Now there's this: The National Solid Wastes Management Association has launched a website devoted to killing the proposal, Fight City of Dallas Flow Control. That's where, earlier this week, it posted a ream of documents obtained via an open-records request, among them emails in which Nix and other sanitation department employees ask former Dallas city manager Richard Knight, who has a waste disposal company, and officials with such companies as Organic Energy Corporation and GGI Energy to come before the council and sell the whole trash-to-treasure proposal. As far as the NSWA's concerned, this is out of bounds: "Where is the vetting process to determine whether proposals make economic sense: "If the city is considering this type of program where is the RFP inviting all qualified companies to compete for the business? Where is the vetting process to determine whether proposals make economic sense?"

Nix and I have been trading messages, and she's presently on a plane headed out of town. So I called Mary Suhm to see if she had any response to the website -- which, as it turns out, she's heard of but yet to look at. But, she says, the city hasn't issued a request for proposals because the council hasn't agreed to flow control  -- a proposal first floated in June of last year as a possible budget-balancer that went nowhere at the time.

Suhm says it won't be in the budget she'll present to the council a week from Friday -- which doesn't mean it can't make an appearance before her proposal becomes a done deal. There will be another flow control briefing to the council next month, says Suhm, "because I believe it's something we should be doing." So do others at City Hall: Council members are being asked, privately, to sign off on the deal. Meanwhile, the solid-waste association is asking council members to vote no in mailers that have been sent to their homes and offices.

When asked about the emails to and from Knight, Suhm says, "People come all the time to talk to the council about ideas under consideration, to give the council more information. There are a lot of people getting into the business, into energy transformation technology. I don't know any of us can say how it will evolve, but it's happening, and we want to keep that resource within the city.

"There's an emerging technology that will transform garbage into energy -- garbage the citizens of Dallas produce that is a resource -- and if we have a mechanism to store it, we ought to do that, because it is going to be a source of revenue and will keep our costs down on the tax side and the sanitation side, and it will be a valuable resource. It seems to me if the city has a place to store the resource, it's a good, long-term public policy."

But, she does acknowledge: Southern sector council members concerned about the increase in traffic and trash to the McCommas Bluff Landfill have a valid concern -- one, she insists, that will be addressed. When asked how, Suhm says that'll be addressed in the August briefing.

"We can document there will not be a whole lot more trucks," she says. "Yes, there will be more trash, but this is about looking to the future, toward a good industry with good, high-paying jobs that will allow us to collaborate with universities for jobs of the future. We need to do something to make sure we aren't causing long-term damage and imposing on South Dallas. That's the most challenging thing: How do we accomplish that? So now it's up to the council. I promised them we'd balance the budget without [flow control], but in my mind this is something for the long term, and if they wanna take longer deciding, that's all right. But the longer they take, the more you stand to lose."

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What they're talking about is recycling on steriods!  Let's face it, recycling does 2 things that save money.  First, it takes the paper, plastic, metals, etc. out of the garbage and sells it.  Second, it keeps all that from taking up valuable landfill space.  Do this first, then do something constructive with the food and green waste, which create methane by the way and you're on your way to making money.  Do this at McCommas and we're starting to see investment in South Dallas.  Sounds like we're heading in the right direction to me!


Suhm is wasting valuable political capital pushing a proposal that has little traction among city council members. Her team's math has been faulty from the start. Most of the jobs generated by the Materials Recycling Facility shown in city presentations are low levels jobs sorting trash. The Denton biofuels plant had a staff of only eight people before it went broke. If good reporters like Robert keep asking good questions it will continue to become apparent that this pet project offers nothing but higher costs and pie in the sky claims of potential savings that may be at least a decade away. Most council members are already well aware that the briefings have lacked any real substance. Having potential vendors come in to support the staff recommendations smells of a desperate attempt to save an idea that is in serious trouble. Mary is avoiding implementing well known solutions that would save the city millions in favor of a program that won't show any benefits until long after she has retired.     

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

Richard Knight is an interesting character in the whole business of minority set-aside contracts.  Like Willis Johnson, Mr. Knight appears to support himself by being one of the small circle of politically connected insiders that are foisted on bidders for work with one of the public entities based in Dallas.

In this regard, Mr. Knight has racked up quite a record: - Dallas Convention Center Hotel - Assorted DISD bond issue work - DFW Airport - Dallas Performing Arts Center - Love Field Terminal rebuild

Heck, the more I look at it, it appears as if Mr. Knight has made money off of EVERY SINGLE major public works project undertaken by the City of Dallas in recent years.  That's quite a track record; a 100% success rate.

Yet he still manages to have extra time to start a company in an entirely different industry that is going to make money off of the city dump.  And even though this new company has no experience, the City of Dallas reaches out to it for its expertise.

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