Voters have spoken, and an effort to hire a private contractor to run Cowlitz County’s Headquarters Landill is dead for now, Cowlitz County Commissioner Dennis Weber said Wednesday.
Incumbent Commissioner Joe Gardner, who opposed the landfill move, defeated challenger Jerry Cooper in a landslide, capturing nearly 60 percent of the vote as of Wednesday’s general election ballot count. Cooper, a Kelso Republican, had leaned strongly in favor of exploring a contract with a private operator as a way to maximize revenue for the county. All sides agreed the landfill was a major factor in the race.
Cooper had been endorsed by Commissioner Arne Mortensen, leaving Weber the deciding vote on the landfill matter. Now, with Weber’s opposition, the proposal can’t move forward.
Weber said Wednesday he is recommending the county end all discussion with Republic Services over contracting the management of the county-owned landfill. He said Gardner’s re-election played a role in the decision, and one of the reasons he has waited to state an opinion is that he wanted to see results of the commissioners race. In effect, he was treating that contest as a referendum on the landfill.
In addition, Weber said, he met with the mayors of all five of the county’s cities over the past several weeks. All of them wanted to break off discussions to contract out landfill services, Weber said.
“After extensive consultation with leaders of all five local cities, I am recommending that the county end further discussions with Republic Services over privatizing management of the Headquarters Landfill. We have also achieved consensus on specific management goals for county staff to address over the next several years,” Weber said in a press release.
The conversation could start up again in a few years, Weber said. By then the county would be better prepared to answer citizens’s questions and concerns. By that time, though, the idea will have lost one of its champions. Mortensen has stated he won’t seek re-election when his term expires in two years.
In the meantime, Public Works Director Mike Moss and Landfill Manager Ron Williams are recruiting for three or four new employees to address address a staff shortage. After the commissioners take a vote, they’ll work with consultant Richard Thiel to respond to management reforms.
“Give us a couple of years to meet these goals, and I have confidence we can achieve them,” Moss said in the release.