A committee has dealt a serious blow to a proposal to contract with a private company to manage Cowlitz County’s Headquarters Landfill.
With one member abstaining, the county’s nine-member Solid Waste Advisory Committee unanimously recommended Tuesday that the county retain management of the landfill south of Silver Lake.
The county should stop negotiating with privately owned Republic Services and let its Public Works Department continue to run the dump, the committee advised.
While the county commissioners legally could ignore the recommendation, doing so might be politically dicey. SWAC membership represents a broad group of local government and business representatives.
Waste Control owner Joe Willis, a SWAC member, spoke passionately against a Republic partnership. If Republic raised dumping fees after a proposed five-year freeze, Waste Control would be forced to raise its rates annually, Willis said.
“Corporate philosophy … is to maximize the return for the stockholders,” he said. “(Republic is) not looking out for Cowlitz County. It’s going to take (money) out of Cowlitz County to give to the stockholders.”
Commissioners have considered partnering with Republic to boost revenues to help finance county government, which faces revenue shortfalls in the next two years.
Commissioner Arne Mortensen especially has championed a partnership with Republic, saying the company would give the county an up-front payment of $15 million, with an additional $6 million every year. The county also would receive 20 percent of disposal fees, $4 for every ton of trash that comes from the county and $3.50 for each ton from outside the county, he said.
Under county management, the landfill generates an annual profit of about $4 million.
Of the 60 to 65 people who attended the meeting, 25 spoke, and 14 opposed the idea of a partnership with Republic, including Longview City Council members MaryAlice Wallis, Scott Vydra and Chet Makinster.
“By continuing to operate this landfill, the county will ensure the best possible outcome for tax-paying citizens at providing a safe, stable and affordable public service for years to come,” Wallis said. “All cities in Cowlitz County, major industry and residents agree that this public service will be best performed by a public entity, Cowlitz County.”
Castle Rock Mayor Paul Helenberg said he was concerned about Republic raising the county’s tipping fees (which are currently the lowest in Western Washington) and increased truck traffic on Headquarters Road.
“We keep taking money out of the Cowlitz County road fund, and then we’re going to subsidize other counties in this state to bring trash in, and we’re going to pay the cost of maintaining that road,” he said. “That bothers me somewhat.”
Kalama Mayor Mike Reuter also opposed a deal with Republic.
Former Weyerhaeuser Co. employee Ken Spring said he was worried about Republic not caring about the concerns of Silver Lake residents who live right next to the landfill, as well as the potential for garbage from other counties being taken to Headquarters (something both Republic and Public Works have suggested).
“The most ignorant thing the county could do is get rid of that landfill,” he said.
One supporter of Republic management, Kalama resident Ron Madera, said doing could lower taxes.
“Get the county out of the (landfill) business, and save the taxpayers some dollars,” he said.
Woodland resident Dawn Butler said because of Republic’s experience in landfills (the company currently operates 193 active sites), she trusts the company to run Headquarters efficiently.
“They’re the experts,” she said. “They get national awards for their landfill, so they know what they’re doing.”
Darlene Johnson, small-business owner and member of the Woodland Chamber of Commerce, said she believed Republic is a reputable company and the county should be able to negotiate a fair contract.
“I have real faith in the county commissioners that they could do a contract that would be beneficial to the Cowlitz County residents,” she said. “If they couldn’t do a good contract, then they probably couldn’t run the landfill either.”
The landfill now accepts about 675,000 tons of trash annually, and Republic said it would increase that to the permitted limit of 1 million tons immediately upon taking over management. This means the county would dramatically increase the import of municipal waste from around the region.
Republic representative Don Tibbets estimated that the increased trash load would result in about three more trucks per hour using Headquarters Road, but Republic would be open to ideas of constructing a separate road for landfill traffic.
“We’re open to be creative to impact local residents as little as possible.”
There are now three options for the commissioners: Heed SWAC’s advice and allow the county’s public works department to continue running the Silver Lake-area landfill, partner with Republic or reconsider the eight other private company proposals.