Wyoming counties struggle to cover the cost of following federal landfill rules

Nov 11, 2011

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In recent months, we’ve brought you stories about how Wyoming communities are changing the way they handle their garbage and recyclables to keep up with federal water quality standards. For many, the answer has been to close small landfills, and transport waste to larger de facto regional landfills. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez recently visited Park County, where three landfills will close. The garbage will now we shipped to Cody. She found that this environmental solution carries with it higher costs and more uncertainty.

REBECCA MARTINEZ: That cost issue has already gotten people’s attention. Above the mirrors and chairs in Sportsman’s Barber Shop in downtown Powell hang dozens of trophy game heads, admiring the work barber P.J. Edgell and his father do there. His dad’s losing his hearing and isn’t too chatty these days, but P.J.’s got a lot of clients, and they get to talking. By his understanding, nobody he’s spoken with is terribly excited for the Powell Landfill to close down next fall.

P.J. EDGELL: “I think we’re all confused. We’re worried about how much our garbage is gonna cost us. That’s probably the biggest worry on people’s minds. They talked about a transfer station and/or trucking it to Cody. We haven’t been told a lot so we all kinda come to our own conclusions.”

MARTINEZ: In 2004, the Department of Environmental Quality charged all the counties with creating integrated solid waste plans for the next 20 years that would allow them to keep pollution from leaching into the groundwater. Park County decided to install an expensive protective liner in the Cody landfill, to handle municipal solid waste municipal solid waste or MSW. That’s the wet household garbage that arrives there in trash bags. Since it’s lined, it’s also accepting MSW from Meeteetse, which closed last summer. It will accept it from Clark and Powell when they close in September.

All this this will be a costly venture. The Department of Environmental Quality requires that existing landfills be covered with a protective cap – much like the liner on new landfills – to keep rainwater off the garbage. Building a transfer station requires new equipment, not to mention the fuel trucks will use hauling the gathered garbage to a new site. The DEQ’s Craig McOmie said the requirements caught many municipalities off guard.

CRAIG MCOMIE: “We don’t have set asides for capping or lining, much less transfer. So now we have the perfect storm of the majority of landfills in the state are all cash strapped.

MARTINEZ: The DEQ estimates that Wyoming has about 225 million dollars-worth of leaking landfills. So far, the Legislature has allocated 15 million to help with closures, although Gov. Mead has recommended another $15 million be set aside for the cause in the next two years. Which, of course is well short of what many believe is needed. Republican Rep. Tom Lockhart is House Chair of the Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee. 

REP. TOM LOCKHART: That’s to catch the highest priorities so that you can take care of the most risky problem first and move to the others as time and money allows.

MARTINEZ: In October, the State Lands and Investment Board agreed to lend Park County 5-and-a-half million dollars to cover initial closure costs, like caps for the three landfills and transfer stations.  The county, however, is on its own to pay for lining the landfill cells in Cody, and monitor the landfills every year for the next three decades… at least.

To pay for this, the county has increased its tipping fee, charging $90 per ton of municipal solid waste brought to any of the landfills. That’s up from 60 dollars per ton since 2009. Residents pay about $12.50 per month for trash pick-up now, which will increase by a dollar in 2015.

(Sounds of truck at landfill)

MARTINEZ: The Powell Landfill is still accepting MSW for now. Park County Solid Waste Director Tim Waddell drives around the 25 functional acres set to be closed down. Powell might continue to accept compost material and construction debris once it starts shipping its waste out of town. Waddell says that will mean even higher rates for residents.

TIM WADDELL: Well, transfer, it burns diesel fuel, you’ve gotta have equipment. Yeah, the rates will go up. If we end up putting transfer in here, I’ll have to figure out what it’s costing me to get it to Cody. They will go up a little bit, yeah.”

MARTINEZ: Another unknown is what they’ll find in the monitoring wells on the four landfills. If, in the next 30 years, the DEQ finds that pollution from the landfills are continuing to spread in the underground aquifer, the county will have to conduct remediation measures to clean up the damage. Waddell’s not going to worry about that for now.

Nor is he too optimistic. In other parts of the country, some landfill consolidation efforts have actually streamlined waste management, making it cheaper and more efficient. But Waddell says factoring in the shipping distance and Powell’s operating fees, the Park County’s costs will go up long before they come down.

WADDELL: “It’s gonna be a headache for three or four years to make it short. It’ll be nice when it’s done, but it makes life miserable at times.”

MARTINEZ: Park County will host a public meeting covering the preliminary closure plans at the Original Courthouse in Cody Tuesday evening. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Rebecca Martinez.