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Dance-like grace in a place of waste

Motorized ballets staged as transfer station decays

News editor

Few would expect to see poetry in motion in the midst of heaping piles of smelly trash unless they’ve watched Joe Vinduska handle a skid loader on the tipping floor of the county transfer station in Marion.

Tipping floor is waste management lingo for “dump your trash here so we can push it around.”

With 9½ years of practice under his belt, Vinduska’s choreographed routine as he uses the skid loader to push trash over a ragged-edged concrete cliff into a container is reminiscent of a ballet, with protective netting in place of frilly tutus.

Vinduska gets double the practice he needs because once he’s finished with the skid loader, he usually has to do it all over again, this time on a rig equipped with a whirling brush to sweep away what left on the worn, rough floor with sections where metal strips stick up above the concrete.

“If it was smooth, we could just push it right off,” Vinduska said.

The building, constructed in 1909, according to supervisor Bud Druse, was originally an electric plant that went out of service in the mid-1970s.

“The cement is wearing down,” Druse said, strolling across the floor. “You can see the rebar down through here, and the thickness is not here anymore. That’s usually two inches down from the top of the concrete. It should be.”

Druse said problems with the floor have gotten worse in the 2½ years he’s been supervisor.

“We keep getting heavier loads all the time,” he said. “When it first started out, the loads weren’t near as heavy as they are now. The trucks weren’t as heavy as they are now. The floor wasn’t designed to handle that.”

Chemical degradation is another culprit eroding the floor, Vinduska said.

“Anything that’s caustic or corrosive,” he said. “We don’t know what’s in those bags. That fluid comes down on this floor. It gets down into these cracks and it just rots. It deteriorates the concrete mixture itself.”

Putting down an overlay to smooth out the floor isn’t a solution, Druse said.

“You don’t have any support for an overlay,” he said.

Unlike transfer stations that have tipping floors built on solid ground, the county’s facility is a two-story operation, with trash dumped on the upper floor and pushed over an edge into a container below.

The once finished and metal-capped edge is rough, broken concrete, with no structural supports directly underneath.

“We’re trying to keep everybody east of the pillars,” Druse said. “That’s about four feet from the edge of the pit. That’s where it’s getting the thinnest. All these cracks have started since I’ve been here.”

From the pit floor looking up, the underneath side of the tipping floor is a patchwork of concrete, metal, and wood.

Druse pointed out a long, straight crack running through the tippling floor and the main concrete support beam closest to the edge. Then he pointed to the floor, indicating a patched seam where the material has separated.

Those are evidence the center section of the building is settling and the walls are tipping inward, Druse said. A level placed on the floor revealed a corresponding tilt.

Vinduska walked over to a more striking bit of evidence: an iron I-beam support column, attached at the floor but leaning about 20 degrees and nowhere close to touching the ceiling.

“We’ve already lost one beam, see that?” he asked. “This came loose from the ceiling.”

Vinduska pushed the column up straight; it still didn’t touch the ceiling it was designed to support.

While Druse and Vinduska pointed out several other structural issues in the recycling area and shop, their talk turned to the kinds of loads the station handles.

“People just think about their own trash,” Druse said.

But the station also takes construction and demolition waste, often boosting their daily tonnage from 20 to 60 tons.

Vinduska recalled a severe hailstorm that did extensive damage to roofs shortly after he started in 2008. Most of the damaged shingles ended up at the transfer station.

“We were doing 60 tons a day and more,” he said. “It was crazy.”

Construction waste from Hillsboro clogged the transfer station earlier this year.

“We had an overflow because of the hospital, and because of the Tabor (arts) building,” Druse said.

Construction waste often has to be separated to pull out items that can’t go to a landfill or won’t fit in a container bin.

“When you’ve got to pull 15 to 20 tons apart to get stuff out, that take a long time,” Vinduska said.

People driving up with trash to dump often have to wait because a load of construction waste came in just ahead of them.

“We don’t know what’s coming,” Druse said. “Nobody calls us. There have been times people have had to wait almost an hour.”

There’s almost always waiting on Saturdays, when a line of cars and trucks often stretches from the tipping floor to the railroad tracks on Santa Fe St.

With increased activity comes heightened risk for accidents.

“There are times when people come in on their own and machines are on the floor,” Druse said. “We have to stop operations to find out what they’re doing.”

Druse also worries about people getting too close to the pit.

“I’ve seen so many people who have to see their trash go into the trailer,” he said. “I’ve heard stories from counties around where people have fallen into the pit. I worry about people tripping and falling. If the container is empty, it’s a long fall.”

Designs for a new transfer station would eliminate having the public on the tipping floor altogether, Druse said, and make dropping off trash and processing big loads quicker and safer.

For now, Druse and employees must make do with what they have.

“We were told by the engineer not to bang the floor anymore,” he said. “If something falls out of a truck, try not to let it fall so hard. With the equipment and the people dumping, it’s almost like walking on tippy toes.”

Last modified Feb. 1, 2018

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