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Landfill board hears options

News Letter Journal of Newcastle, Wyoming

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The newly formed board of the Weston County Solid Waste Disposal District held its second meeting last Tuesday, electing board officers before discussing with Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality officials some of the options available to the county for future solid waste disposal.

Ed Wagoner was elected board chair while Ted Ertman was voted in as vice chair. Ron Brunner and Brian Pischke were elected treasurer and secretary respectively. The board also voted to schedule their regular meetings for the third Wednesday of every month, with the understanding that special meetings will often have to be called.

Board members, who were joined by County Commissioner Randy Rossman, and for part of the meeting by County Administrative Assistant Dan Blakeman, resolved to arrange a stakeholder meeting with Upton and Newcastle officials after hearing from the DEQ's Craig McComie, program manager for integrated solid waste management and recycling, and Rebecca Dietrich, who handles permitting and corrective action for the southeast third of the state.

Dietrich was standing in for Dale Anderson, who performs the same function for the DEQ for the northern portion of the state, including Weston County.

McComie told the board that when it comes to solid waste disposal they are dealing with a complex issue, although right now options are totally open as far as what path the board might take.

In terms of available funding, however, McComie asserted that the Cease and Transfer program that he oversees, which funds the closure of landfills and construction of transfer stations, is probably the most viable option. In answer to a question about whether money was only available from the DEQ for landfill closures and not for siting a new landfill, McComie confirmed that was the case.

"That's correct. There are funds for [landfills] from [the] State Revolving Funds [Program]. Park County got a SRF [loan] with $800,000 principal forgiveness to line their landfill, but those SRF moneys, Congress has not replenished the principle forgiveness side," said McComie, adding that, as federal loans, SRF money comes with a number of strings attached.

McComie, who serves in an advisory capacity to the State Loan and Investment Board, contended also that SLIB funding is an unlikely source of money for landfill projects.

Though the Cease and Transfer program, which pays for up to 75 percent of costs in the form of grants and loans for landfill closure and transfer station construction, does not directly apply since the county does not currently operate a landfill, McComie said the program could be relevant in a scenario in which the county works in conjunction with the municipalities. For the county landfill district to directly receive Cease and Transfer funds, however, it would be required to first take over the Newcastle landfill through permit transfer, McComie explained.

Asked by Ted Ertman about the cost of closing local facilities, McComie answered that the general rule of thumb is about $100,000 per acre and that by his own calculations closure of the Newcastle landfill alone would cost about $1.1 million.

In terms of siting a landfill within Weston County, McComie expressed concerns about economy of scale and suggested an attempt would need to be made to bring in communities outside Weston, such as Moorcroft and Sundance. Without at least the cooperation of the municipalities within the county, which account for the bulk of its population, McComie warned such a project would not be feasible.

"My biggest concern with a landfill is what if you site it and they don't come," McComie fretted. "Because if we're telling you it might be five years to get this thing up and running, well, I can tell you in five years we will have already made Upton and Newcastle make a decision with what they're going to do with their waste. We're not going to have vertical expansions just to hope they're going to come to you. One, you need the contracts in place, but, two, they're already going to be shipping somewhere by the time you've got your doors open. Unless your price is better than where they're shipping, it's going to be really hard to pry them out of what they're doing."

McComie continued, enumerating a few other obstacles he foresaw in terms of landfill construction in Weston County.

"I think it's a real uphill battle, whether it's that the rapport doesn't exist with those two communities currently, or whether [the municipalities] are going to be in a transfer station situation at that point, or [whether] Newcastle will be going down the road toward a performance based design demonstration," he said.

Given the financial risks involved in drilling test wells and other costs associated with siting a piece of property for a landfill, McComie suggested that the potential Newcastle purchase of 40 acres contiguous with their existing landfill might be the most promising possibility. He seemed to indicate, however, that the DEQ's Dale Anderson, who would be responsible for permitting the facility, has some concerns about the performance based design option the city favors in which design technique and impermeability of soil would substitute for a costly liner.

Torrington and Washakie County might be approached about what engineering firms they utilized for their performance based design landfills, McComie noted, if that's the option Newcastle ends up pursuing.

Even the utilization of a liner, however, doesn't one hundred percent guarantee a particular property can be a landfill site, McComie went on, though he admitted the great depth at which groundwater is generally found locally is a potential advantage and could make the use of a liner more economical.

"Liner costs are all about how much waste you can get on top of that liner," he continued, explaining the deeper they go the more cost efficient they become.

Dietrich, who has designed landfills in the past, explained that the bulk of the costs associated with a new landfill come upfront in the form of siting, particularly hydrogeology studies. She estimated a 40-acre landfill would entail $300,000 to $500,000 in siting and design costs.

"Here's the deal," McComie concluded. "[The state] can help you close your landfill. [The state] can help you build a transfer station. What it can't do is help you with that [potential] new 40 [acre Newcastle landfill] out there-If you want to go down that [performance based design] rod, [the state] can't help you. That's all risk/reward on you."

Brunner, who noted that Newcastle already has much of the infrastructure needed for a transfer station in place, worried that the sole use of a transfer station could place the county at the mercy of the whims of whomever they were shipping waste to and that a backup plan in some form is needed.

Landfills cannot be moth-balled as backups, McComie explained in response, though a minimal amount of refuse, perhaps from construction and demolition, might be placed into them while the bulk of trash is shipped elsewhere. A landfill might also be sited and permitted as a backup without actually being constructed, he said, though that would entail considerable upfront costs.

McComie seemed largely dismissive of such concerns, however, seeming to believe a number of options will continue to exist for the county in terms of where waste can be shipped. He noted Rapid City and Campbell County, at $56 and $75 per ton respectively, might be potential recipients of waste. Casper charges $46 per ton unless a written agreement is entered into in which case it can go as low as $35 per ton, he further mentioned.

"There is no sure thing," McComie said. "The way the City of Casper does it is they say, 'You enter into this contract with us and we guarantee we won't raise your rates without raising our own customer's rates'."

The Casper contract also waves liability, though it stipulates how waste will be sorted and delivered, McComie continued.

Generally, transportation of waste tends to run around $30 a ton, according to McComie. A transfer station for the county would probably cost between $1.5 and $2.1 million, he added.

Ertman observed that a county transfer station with which the municipalities don't participate would mean small volumes of trash being shipped at high prices.

McComie responded by saying that is the reason that a partnership between the county and Upton and Newcastle is key, as both municipalities' garbage and votes are necessary for the project's economic viability and the potential passage of a mill levy to help initially finance it.

The levying of the three mills allowed to the landfill district might be possible, McComie predicted, provided it was clearly explained to voters how and for what the mills are to be used.

Dietrich and McComie insisted they weren't attempting to steer the board in any particular direction but only giving an idea of what options are realistically available. McComie said that DEQ officials would be happy to attend any stakeholder meetings arranged between the county and municipalities.

In terms of the ultimate legal liability for landfills within the county, in particular the Central Weston County (Osage) facility, McComie emphasized he is not a lawyer and would have to look to the state Attorney General for a more definitive answer. He stated, however, that it is likely that the state would look to the county should the entity with direct control of a particular landfill for some reason default on its responsibilities.

Toward the close of the meeting, Commissioner Rossman asserted that he would not be comfortable with the county taking over Newcastle's facility but believed some sort of cooperative arrangement is in order. He said he believes funds for landfills will be forthcoming from somewhere, even if it's yet unclear.

"The state doesn't know what they're going to do with them, and they don't want to encumber these poorer counties to have to truck it to Casper or wherever... There will be something out there," he predicted.

At the request of the rest of the board, Chairman Ed Wagoner said he would approach Newcastle about putting together a work session on landfills.

Copyright 2015 News Letter Journal, Newcastle, Wyoming. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: November 5, 2015

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