Public works officials in Frisco, Texas, are revamping the city's street sweeping program to emphasize the removal of stormwater pollutants.
by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
Frisco, Texas, is located a little over 30 miles due north of Dallas. It is a city of about 145,000 people that has grown at a rate of over 300% since 2000. The population density is mostly urban, with only about 1% of residents living in rural designated areas of the city.
The Frisco public works department has been, and will continue to, utilize a private sweeping contractor for its street sweeping needs. However, the contract will soon be up and the public works department wants to move toward finding ways to ensure the next sweeping program abates the town's stormwater runoff pollution as best as is practicable. To help ensure they were heading in the right direction in the contract rebid, the town's Stormwater Administrator, Perry Harts, contacted our WorldSweeper organization to get advice and links to previous studies and profiles on how other cities are meeting similar goals via sweeping.
When asked why the city chooses to contract out its street sweeping services, Harts said "We have only one sweeper that is owned by the town and that's not enough to sweep an area as large as ours. Plus, we're one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. The sweeping contract was originally in the street department and managed by them. When the stormwater portion was created it eventually came over to us. I like the idea of it being in the stormwater department because one of the things in our [stormwater runoff abatement rules] requirement is to remove the pollutant load to the maximum extent practicable.
"Historically, we've gone to a lot of trouble to remove a few pounds of pollutants [at the end of the pipe]. Then, I looked at the figures from the sweeping service and I realized that the streets are where the dirt and pollutant loadings are. By doing a more thorough job of sweeping we can, at the same time we address runoff pollutants, improve the appearance of our city and quality of life for our citizens.
I realized that sweeping is a field where technology is important and that we needed to know the latest trends and equipment – all the things that are available out there to do the best possible job. To be fair on the bidding process I felt we couldn't contact a sweeping contractor for this information so that's why we called on WorldSweeper since you knew [all of that] but weren't a prospective bidder."
One of the elements that Harts decided will be required as part of the City of Frisco sweeping contract will be that the winning contractor's sweepers are equipped with an automatic vehicle locator (AVL) system. This is so the city can track where the sweeping has been done, as well as provide documentation; part of the stormwater requirements for a municipality are to have solid documentation to show what has been done to hit targets. What he's learned with the EPA's requirements, Harts says, is "if it wasn't documented then it didn't happen. With our AVL system requirement, if we're ever audited by the EPA or the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) then the data we'll have will be rock solid."
Frisco city management also wants to track the tonnage of debris that gets removed from its streets. The thought is that by compiling the data over time the city will be able to draw comparisons in the future. Although the city has given consideration to purchasing its own sweepers, analysis showed it made much more sense to work with a professional sweeping contractor.
"Working with a contractor makes a lot of sense for us," said Harts. "There's value in having somebody where sweeping is what they do. We're big enough now where it takes multiple sweepers to do the job, yet we're unable to keep them busy all the time."
The majority of the sweeping contract will be for major thoroughfares. However, one thing the city strove for in the new contract was to have some sort of communication between the sweeping contractor and Frisco city management so that the latter may alert area Home Owner Associations (HOAs) about when sweeping will take place. The intent of this is to get as many parked cars as possible in the HOAs removed prior to sweeping taking place. With HOAs, the owners often want their communities to be and stay clean, so there's more motivation to do something like move cars to allow a sweeper to do a great job instead of ending up with a mediocre one due to it having to weave between parked cars. Plus, in terms of stormwater pollution abatement, parking enforcement is one of the most important factors determining sweeping results.
After learning thoroughly about the mechanics, track records, advantages and disadvantages of the three major types of sweepers, – mechanical broom, vacuum and regenerative air – from the information provided by WorldSweeper, Harts determined that the best specification for what Frisco was trying to accomplish was to require regenerative air machines for its main sweeping.
"We want to take advantage of the smaller pollutants that the regenerative air can pick up," said Harts. "That's very important to us. For special cleanups we may want one or the other of the other two technologies, but for our routine cleanups that seems to be the way to go."
Although the city's RFP specifies regenerative air machines for the primary sweeping, it also contains language that includes use of a mechanical broom sweeper(s) for 'specialized sweeping' like construction sites where there is heavy trackout, for example. After learning about the pros and cons of the various types of sweepers, Harts said he now recognizes that all sweepers are not the best for all jobs.
Frisco's solid waste collection is done with CNG-powered vehicles and city managers are hoping that the winning contractor's sweepers can be outfitted for CNG, as well. This is listed as an option in the RFP. In terms of debris collected by the sweeper, the WorldSweeper information pointed out that it may well be in a city's best interest to have the RFP specify that the city will pay directly for disposal of the material collected by the sweeper. There are several factors in this regard.
For one, whenever there is uncertainty a contractor must factor into its bid an amount of money that would cover what might happen. In any long-term contract, this could include a hedge on an increase in tipping fees. Also, there is less incentive to do a great job of sweeping when the more material that's picked up, the more it costs the contractor at the landfill. For these reasons, the Frisco RFP includes an option that would be to have the city cover tipping fees and/or offer a site for the contractor to dump city-collected debris.
"If there are enough savings," said Harts, "it will provide us with an incentive to buy a screening machine that will screen out the gross solids like the cans and other trash. Then we can use the rest as fill material at different area construction sites."
Another 'inventive' RFP factor that was discussed was the concept of issuing the winning contractor city-paid fuel cards for use in the sweepers. It is little known in the municipal community that, when a government entity pays for fuel used in sweepers, there is typically a savings of over $.30 per gallon on all fuel used by the sweeper. That's because governments do not have to pay federal or state fuel excise taxes. However, Frisco city officials decided not to pursue that at this time.
In a related issue, the Frisco City Council passed a benefit whereby many businesses that require sweeping on a regularly scheduled basis may receive a reduction on the amount they pay each month in the way of an 'impervious area pollution abatement fee.' The thought is that if a business is sweeping on a regular basis then there's not as much pollutant available to run off into the street and, subsequently, into the stormwater catchbasins or the nearest waterway.
"We offer a 5% credit in a business' stormwater runoff fee if the business sweeps weekly," said Randy Cochran. "It's not very often that government comes to a private business and offers them a way to reduce their costs, but that's what we're doing. So far, several of the businesses with the largest impervious areas have signed up with us.
"The benefits they are reaping is that they're saving hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of dollars on a monthly basis just by maintaining their BMPs, most of which are already in place. We also provide credits for anyone with their own treatment systems, like on-site ditches, swales, retention ponds and so forth. These factors, in addition to the 5% for sweeping, means a business can get up to a 40% reduction in its stormwater fees."
To work most effectively, any type of program such as this must provide, ideally, a savings greater than or equal to the amount that would have been paid as a stormwater fee. I would encourage any city looking at this idea to ally itself with the local sweeping contractor community to determine what amount of savings would make the program work. The sweeping contractors could then utilize the information as part of their sales process in selling sweeping services to the affected organizations. Local area sweeping contractors could even be provided with a list of companies that would benefit from the program.
Something else that should be pointed out is that this somewhat avant garde program of stormwater sweeping and runoff credits is being developed in a city where the person in charge of developing the sweeping program has the title of 'Stormwater Administrator.' For maximum effectiveness, WorldSweeper recommends that the stormwater pollution abatement and sweeping departments be combined so the best decisions about how, and how often, to sweep may be made to the best advantage of the entire organization. The idea is to reduce your overall cost of stormwater pollutant removal.
"We also have found in testing the material that's been collected in our catchbasins that the material has started to go septic," said Harts. "The guy that went in to clean it out had to go home afterward because that's how bad the material was. That really alerted me to the importance of getting these types of pollutants before they get to the catchbasin box where it's close to passersby who could get sick from it."
By implementing its new program based upon the best available data, the sweeping program for the city of Frisco, Texas, will become a leading one in the U.S.
Perry Harts and Frisco Public Works Department offered to include a link to their RFP on this project. Here is the link.
In addition to the above article, the author, who is editor of WorldSweeper.com, has conducted an approximately 27-minute interview with Perry Harts, Frisco's Stormwater Administrator. Also in the podcast is Randy Cochran, who is a hydro-geologist who works with the town. To listen to the podcast audio interview, use the link shown below.
Perry Harts may be reached by calling 972-292-5861 or by sending email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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