Headquarters Landfill

Heavy machinery spreads out and packs waste at the Headquarters landfill. Privatizing the landfill was a hot topic during the November election, serving as a wedge issue in the race for County Commissioner and influencing many voters' thinking on the failed carbon tax, Initiative 1631.

Cowlitz County Commissioner Arne Mortensen Wednesday blasted an advisory board and opponents of a proposed landfill partnership with a private waste management company.

“The testimony that I heard, not one word made sense. It was emotional drivel,” he said about the near-unanimous recommendation against the idea Tuesday by the Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC). “You should not make a decision of that magnitude with emotional arguments; they need to be substantive.”

Mortensen, who’s been a major supporter of partnering with Republic Services, called SWAC’s recommendation “inappropriate.” He said its members were uninformed, beholden to special interests (most of the nine SWAC members are representatives of local cities or corporations) and weren’t thinking logically.

Mortensen said he does not plan on following SWAC’s recommendation and will vote to turn over management of the county-owned Headquarters Landfill to Republic, whenever the commissioners hold a vote.

“I’m not in the business of jeopardizing the county and throwing away an opportunity,” he said. “I literally cannot think of one reason why Republic shouldn’t take over ... and I’m usually pretty good of thinking outside the box.”

Mortensen has said the company would give the county an up-front payment of $15 million, with an additional $6 million every year, among other benefits. The county has struggled to balance the budgets in recent years, and officials have cited the need for more income.

Opponents of a Republic deal have raised concerns about rates skyrocketing after a proposed five-year rate freeze, increased truck traffic on Headquarters Road, and increased odors and air pollution in Silver Lake and Toutle (which neighbor the landfill). They say that the county doesn’t need Republic’s help and is already earning millions off the landfill.

Commissioner Joe Gardner, whose district includes Silver Lake and Toutle, opposes any deal with Republic. He was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.

This leaves the third commissioner, Dennis Weber, as the pivotal vote. He’s consistently maintained neutrality, and he remained uncommitted Wednesday.

“I’m still taking in additional information,” he said. “One of the things that I agree with SWAC is that you don’t need to be in a rush. The value of the landfill will continue to increase.”

Although he wouldn’t say whether he agreed with SWAC’s recommendation, Weber said he didn’t find its opposition surprising.

“When you have a committee made up of people who all work for companies or governments who’ve already expressed their opposition, it was pretty well a done deal before they started meeting,” he said. (Multiple Cowlitz County cities and companies like Nippon Dynawave have voiced concerns about a Republic deal.)

During Tuesday’s meeting, one concern brought up by SWAC board member Jim Hill, a Kelso city councilman, is that the landfill process was skipping a review from the county Governance Committee.

According to an interlocal agreement between Cowlitz County and its cities, the Governance Committee must give a recommendation on any major changes to the county’s solid waste disposal system, just like SWAC. The board consists of two county representatives and one representative each from Longview and Kelso.

Although the commissioners could act against a SWAC and Governance Committee recommendation, Kelso City Manager and Governance Committee member Steve Taylor said they would be in breach of the interlocal agreement if they pursue a contract with Republic before consulting the committee.

Public hearings regarding Headquarters Landfill’s management could be announced during a county commissioner meeting at 10:30 a.m. Thursday (today), according to Chief of Staff Axel Swanson.

Mortensen said he hopes to schedule two public hearings, one in the morning and one at night, on July 24. After the night meeting, he would plan on calling for a final commissioner vote on a Republic deal.

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