Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Incinerator Tour A Chance To Talk Trash

After touring Spokane’s mammoth garbage burner, I’ve concluded it would be much more difficult to dispose of a body there than I previously had suspected.

You’d at least have to thoroughly dice your victim and then wrap the pieces tightly in newspaper to have any chance at all of getting away with the crime.

True, our incinerator consumes some 800 tons of trash a day, but “the garbage gets a lot more inspection than in the days of the old landfills,” says Damon Taam, assistant director of the waste-toenergy plant on Geiger Road.

As far as he knows, no stiffs other than a few Spokane City Council members have shown up at the plant since it opened in 1991.

A deer, however, recently was cremated, and someone once threw away a live mortar shell. Amazingly, it didn’t go off.

These are only some of the fascinating tidbits of information available to members of the public who dare take a Journey Through Junk.

I decided Wednesday, while reading this fine newspaper, to visit the dump. The following notice had caught my eye: “Free tours of Wasteto-Energy Plant, call 625-6875.

I gazed outside and wondered what kind of people would spend such an unseasonably warm and brilliant day traipsing about the insides of a garbage burner.

Meet the O’Learys: Louise; her husband, Mike; and his brother, Tom, an engineer on vacation from Illinois.

The O’Learys were the only others waiting to take the tour when I arrived at the incinerator shortly before 11 a.m.

The average person probably doesn’t consider the garbage burner one of Spokane’s tourism hot spots.

But Louise says she was unloading some trash one day and was so overcome by the plant’s grand scale that she had to take a closer look.

“Slick. Really slick,” says Louise. “I’m still impressed.”

People who are into garbage - and I mean that in the best way - view trash disposal as, well, an exciting thing.

For example, whenever Heidi Olson and Marianne Treppiedi say the word “garbage,” their eyes sparkle like Christmas bulbs.

Heidi and Marianne (yes, she is the wife of Assistant City Attorney Rocky “I’ll Get Those Danged Gypsies Yet” Treppiedi) are official tour guides at the garbage burner.

They are programmed, possibly by environmentalist space aliens, to repeat “Reduce, reuse and recycle” every five minutes or so.

These impossibly cheerful women also are very high on composting, especially with worms they call “red wrigglers.”

Anyone can do this, they say. Just put a pound of wrigglers in a plastic bin with a wad of wet newspapers, preferably including this column. Toss in some old fruit, bread and coffee grounds and sit back as the worms do the rest.

Heidi swears the ensuing worm poop can be used as a fine fertilizer.

She also swears that one woman grew so attached to her wormy friends that she turned the bin into a coffee table when she moved into an apartment.

Speaking of wormy friends, Damon Taam mysteriously joined our group of four visitors shortly after being told that I was on the grounds.

You can’t blame him for being a bit nervous. The garbage burner got a lot of bad press as it was being angrily debated in the late 1980s.

“You don’t see airplanes falling out of the sky; you don’t see seagulls all around,” says Taam. “The facility is working great.”

After taking the tour and perusing the completely unbiased waste-to-energy videotape and brochures, I can state with great authority that this plant is an amazingly efficient, non-polluting wonder of science.

And I’m not saying this just because Taam gave me a little metal garbage-can pin to wear in my hat.

Tags: column