The old Francis Farm Landfill in Waynesville has been closed for nearly 20 years, but its ghost continues to haunt Haywood County.
The county is facing an estimated $5 to $7.5 million in additional environmental cleanup costs for the old landfill, compounding the $1.2 million already shelled out over the past six years.
Eight new monitoring wells will be drilled an old landfill in Haywood County, the latest step in an ongoing effort to track and measure groundwater contamination emanating from the now-closed landfill.
The trash keeps piling up, and if Macon County doesn’t do something soon, its landfill could be overflowing.
By conservative estimates, the section of the Macon County dump now in use will be full in less than five years. Each day, about 125 tons of trash from county and town residents are brought to the facility.
Haywood County will help ease the burden faced by towns as they start trucking their trash all the way to the county’s far-flung landfill.
County commissioners will allocate more than $100,000 to towns to help cover the added cost of the trash journey, from more trash workers to extra trash trucks. Starting this summer, the county will no longer allow towns and commercial trash services to bring their loads to a mid-point trash transfer station in Clyde and instead will make them go all the way to the White Oak landfill, an extra hour or more roundtrip.
During a public hearing on the county budget this week, commissioners made a point to highlight the county’s contribution to towns’ trash operations.
The county will save hundreds of thousands by closing the transfer station to town and commercial trash trucks but will share some of those savings back with the towns to offset the burden and ideally prevented town residents trash rates from going up.
The county will pay the towns of Waynesville, Canton and Clyde $15 for each household that they pick up garbage from.
“All of them were very supportive of that funding formula,” said County Manager Marty Stamey.
Clyde will receive $7,500; Canton will get $23,700; and Waynesville will be allocated $80,670.
The goal of the money is to prevent towns from having to pass the buck onto their residents. Canton and Clyde have committed to not raising their rates.
“The whole concept of this was to alleviate the burden on those citizens,” Stamey said.
However, Waynesville is still recommending a rate increase, though the amount is unknown.
“What the county is offering us doesn’t come anywhere close to what the additional costs will be,” said former Town Manager Lee Galloway, who is acting as a consultant for the town until July. The estimated cost of hauling its own trash to White Oak is $160,000.
Galloway added that the town appreciates the money that the county is able to provide.
The county hopes the contribution will be an annual allocation, according Stamey.
The county already subsidizes the trash journey to White Oak for county residents who don’t live inside the town limits. County residents without town trash pick-up drop their garbage at dumpster lots located in communities throughout the county. The county then pays to have it trucked to White Oak.
Maggie won’t see any assistance, because for it, the White Oak landfill isn’t any further than the transfer station in Clyde.
Residents served by the North Canton and Maggie Valley fire departments will see a 1-cent increase in their fire district taxes next year. The fire tax is tacked on to people’s property tax bills based on every $100 of property valuation.
At the budget public hearing this week, commissioners invited people involved with the North Canton and Maggie Valley fire departments to talk briefly about the tax increases each requested.
The North Canton Volunteer Fire Department has asked for a one-cent increase in its tax rate next year. The current rate is 5.5 cents.
The rate is “considerably lower than other fire departments” in the county and will increase for one year only, said Board Chairman Mark Swanger.
The extra cent will augment the fire department’s budget so it can replace aging gear. The department has already saved $25,000.
“But, we need some more to do that,” said Ben Williamson, chairman of board of North Canton Volunteer Fire Department.
The Maggie Valley Fire Department has also asked for an one-cent increase to help pay for more full-time employees to man the building 24-7. Eventually, the added revenue might be used for new gear as well.
“The big thing is personnel,” said Jan Pressley, who spoke on behalf of the department.
The new employees could mean a lower insurance rates for residents in the valley.
Canton and Waynesville’s paths have diverged when it comes to the most cost efficient way to haul trash to White Oak Landfill.
Both towns will face higher costs to dump residents’ trash starting this summer when the county closes a trash transfer station that served as a mid-way point and instead will require towns to truck trash all the way to White Oak.
The Canton town board decided last week to privatize trash pick-up. Rather than running its own trash fleet, Canton will contract with Henson Waste Disposal starting July 1. The company is based in Canton.
To continue trash pick-up in-house, Canton would have had to hire additional garbage men and buy an additional truck to haul loads out to White Oak and back — an additional 40 miles, or one hour, round-trip for each load.
The extra long trip made it difficult to gauge what would be cheaper — contracting a company or doing the work itself.
“That is the reason we have to look at it to see if we are going to have to go out and buy heavy duty vehicles or contract it out,” said Alderman Ed Underwood.
Town Manager Al Matthews said no town workers will lose their jobs as a result of the switch over, as the town crews that do trash pick-up will stay on the town’s payroll in the streets department.
Henson Waste was the apparent low bidder with a price of $184,884 a year. However, it is currently unknown what the contract price will be. The town and Henson Waste are still negotiating “minor technicalities” within the contract, including a possible fuel adjustment clause, Matthews said.
The county is estimated to save $800,000 to $900,000 annually as a result of closing the transfer station — some of which commissioners said it will give back to towns to help cover their additional costs.
Hauling trash the additional distance to White Oak will also impact commercial garbage haulers and industries with large trash volumes, like manufacturing plants or the hospital. County residents, however, can continue to use one of the many convenience stations located throughout the county.
The town of Waynesville had briefly considered contracting out its solid waste operations as well but decided to continue hauling its own waste based on an analysis done with the help of Land-of-Sky Regional Council, a government planning and development organization in Asheville.
Although there will be additional costs associated with the decision — including the purchase of a new, more efficient rear-loading garbage truck and one new employee — the town does not yet know how much more it will have to shell out each year, said former Town Manager Lee Galloway. Galloway is remaining on board with the town as a consultant until the end of June.
Additional costs for the town will also translate to more money out of residents’ pockets every month. Residences currently pay $6.50 a month for trash pick-up.
“We will be recommending a rate increase,” Galloway said. The amount of the increase is also unknown.
To help mitigate the added cost and cut down on trips to the far away landfill, Waynesville will continue to promote recycling. There is grant funding available for towns to purchase recycling carts or bins for their resident, and Galloway would like to see Waynesville take advantage of that.
“We need to make it easier for people to recycle,” Galloway said. “I would love it if the town could apply for and get money for carts.”
The town currently picks up blue bags full of recyclables from homes and businesses. However, it does not collect cardboard or glass from businesses.
“We haven’t collected cardboard in probably 10 years,” Galloway said. “There is a guy (from Henson Waste) who picks up cardboard and hauls it to Jackson.”
Business owners should call Henson Waste if they wish to have its cardboard and glass picked up for recycling.
The county is also making a push for increased recycling countywide. The goal is to decrease the amount of waste in landfills by eventually recycling at least 40 percent of its refuse. Haywood County currently recycles 11 percent of its garbage and hopes to increase that to 20 percent during the next 10 years.
It also plans to add to the list of items that can be recycled, such as glass, cardboard, paper and plastics. Soon, the county hopes to recycle carpet and shingles.
The county sells its recycled materials to companies around the U.S., which amounted to more than $642,000 in gross revenue during the last fiscal year.
“We use the revenue from the recycling to offset our costs,” said Stephen King, director of Recycling and Solid Waste Management in the county.
The Haywood County Board of Commissioners will hold a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday, May 7, on its 10-year solid waste plan. The plan, which details the county’s goal regarding solid waste, is available at www.haywoodcounty.net. The website also lists what items the county currently recycles.
Haywood County has offered a helping hand as towns grapple with how to cover the extra cost of hauling resident’s trash to the White Oak Landfill.
Starting in July, towns will have to drive trash out to the White Oak landfill near the Tennessee border. Currently, the towns transport their garbage to a transfer station in Clyde, a convenient mid-way point, and the county takes it the rest of the way to landfill. But, the county has decided to shut down the station to save money.
Rather than leaving towns in the lurch, the county will share some of the savings it realizes with the towns to help offset a portion of the extra cost they would otherwise incur.
“We want to try to minimize any negative impact,” said Mark Swanger, chair of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners. “We knew that it would likely create additional costs.”
The money will come out off the $800,000 to $900,000 in savings the county will realize after it closes the transfer station.
“There will be sufficient savings to help the municipalities,” Swanger said. “I think they are very amenable to it.”
It is unknown how much the county will chip in.
“Any amount that would reduce our costs would help,” said Waynesville Town Manager Lee Galloway.
The extra driving distance to the landfill will mean more gas and more hours for town trash trucks. Towns could also be forced to buy additional trucks and hire more garbage men as a result.
Realizing the additional burden it would place on towns, the county held off on closing the transfer station until summer to align with the new budget year. The county has been working through the issue with towns for more than a year.
“The cooperation between the county and towns is really important,” said David Francis, chair of the county’s solid waste committee. “We knew that it was going to be a change in the way they operate.”
The county wanted to avoid changing “all the sudden” and give towns a chance to figure how they will handle the change, he said.
The county realizes that town residents are also county residents, Francis said, and wanted to ease the burden on towns and hopefully avoid a situation where the towns would need to pass the added cost onto their residents.
The county’s scales at the transfer station have helped show towns that their garbage trucks were often not filled to capacity when dropping trash, Francis said. If the trucks carried heavier loads, they could take fewer trips to the landfill and possibly avoid the cost of new truck.
The towns are currently tabulating how much each option would cost them and must present their estimates to the county by Jan. 15. The county will decide how much it will give to the towns in May as it constructs its budget.
Town residents in Haywood County will almost certainly see the cost of their garbage service go up this year when the county shuts down its central trash dump.
Starting in July, towns will have to haul their residents’ trash all the way out to the White Oak landfill, an added burden with no easy solution. The extra distance will mean more gas and more hours on the road for town trash trucks. Towns also could be forced to buy additional trucks and hire more garbage men as a result.
Towns in Haywood County will focus this month on how to deal with the closure of the county’s trash transfer station. The station serves as a mid-way drop-off site in Clyde where garbage trucks can ditch their loads. The county then piles that trash into a tractor-trailer and drives it the rest of the way to the landfill, a 30-minute one-way haul to White Oak near the Tennessee state line.
The county is closing the transfer station as a cost saving measure, forcing towns to pick up the trek to White Oak. The change also applies to commercial garbage haulers and industries with large trash volumes. County residents, however, can continue to use one of the many convenience stations located throughout the county and will not have to haul their trash to White Oak.
Most towns are still analyzing the potential costs of their various options.
“We haven’t decided anything yet,” said Daryl Hannah, Waynesville’s Street Supervisor.
Hannah expects the town to make a decision in the next month, however.
Waynesville officials are hoping on recycling will reduce the amount of trash it has to haul to White Oak.
“Recycling will definitely help,” Hannah said. “It will not only help us but will help the landfill as well.”
More recycling means less trash that town trucks must haul to the landfill — which could partially offset the cost of additional trash trucks and garbage men while extending the life of the landfill.
About 60 percent of households in Waynesville recycle but only 5 percent of the garbage generated by the town is recycled.
While any increase in recycling will help, the town would need to reuse about half of its waste to negate the increased cost and workload of running its trash out to White Oak.
“I’m not sure we could recycle that much,” Galloway said.
One rationale for the low numbers — despite curbside recycling in town — is that people don’t know what is recyclable. What can be recycled by the county seemed to constantly change for a few years.
“Some people just got discouraged and quit all together,” Galloway said.
Other people simply did not want to buy the required blue-colored bags, which distinguish recyclables from refuse. Galloway said that Waynesville residents can also use clear bags for their recycled materials — as long as collectors can tell the difference between garbage and recyclables.
The town made an appeal to residents to ratchet up their recycling in the latest town newsletter but do not have a specific recycling campaign planned at this time.
“I just don’t know right now what more we can do (beyond public education efforts),” Galloway said.
The town is continuing to look at how other municipalities have successfully increased their recycling. Waynesville officials have talked to recycling companies, which would collect and promote recycling in town, and studied places that have upped their recycling numbers by charging residents a small fee.
It seems counterintuitive, but people will start recycling or increase their loads if they are automatically charged for the service, Galloway said, adding that he would rather not increase residents’ detritus fee.
Waynesville isn’t ruling out anything yet. It could end up being cheaper to haul town trash to a private landfill in Buncombe County. Or, Waynesville, Canton and Clyde have discussed operating their own transfer station, sharing the cost among themselves and private haulers rather than each making the long haul to White Oak individually.
But Galloway thinks running their own transfer station would likely be more trouble than its worth.
The Town of Waynesville will review recommendations on how it should handle its refuse at one of its town board meetings this month.
Although no town officials knew how much that would cost overall, Galloway said new garbage trucks cost about $180,000 a piece.
And, unless the landfill is upgraded, the towns will also be forking out a lot more truck repairs and maintenance. Currently, garbage trucks must navigate through piles of trash to dump their loads at the landfill. When a mild rain or snow makes the way impassable, trucks must be towed in and out of the landfill by bulldozers, which can damage the trucks.
The Town of Canton is grappling with whether to privatize its town garbage service, outsourcing the town trash department to a private company. Town officials are currently analyzing their options, said Town Manager Al Matthews.
Canton is in a particular tough position because it is the farthest from the landfill — with an additional 40 miles round-trip — about an hour of time — added the journey of each trash truck.
The town currently takes at least three trips to the transfer station each day. That’s an extra three hours a day. The existing trash trucks and crews can’t fit those extra hours into their existing workweek and still make all 1,583 trash stops in town.
“We have some ideas what it will cost,” Matthews said.
On average, other towns pay $10 to $11 per stop, he said.
At those rates, Canton would have to shell out more than $180,000 a year for trash collection. The town’s trash budget is currently $185,000 a year. While privatizing trash pick-up wouldn’t necessarily save the town any money, it may avoid what will otherwise be an increase in costs when the town has to start hauling to White Oak.
Outsourcing garbage collection would require a one-time fee of about $125,000 to outfit each house in town with a standardized $80 garbage can.
Maggie Valley is the only town that does not have to worry about the transfer station closing thanks to the town’s geographic proximity to White Oak.
“It’s not much difference for us,” said Mike Mehaffey, Maggie Valley’s director of public works. “It’s not much farther to go to the landfill.”
The town contracts with Consolidated Waste Service to haul its trash and had already factored in the possibility that it might need to take the refuse a few extra miles. So, the flat fee rate Maggie Valley pays Consolidated Waste Service will remain the same — $7,529.05 per month.
The considerably smaller town of Clyde also contracts out its trash collection, but the change in dumping location could increase the contractor’s asking price. Compared to Maggie Valley, Clyde is considerably farther away from White Oak.
Prior to the county-level procedure change, Hanson Waste simply drove down the street to the county transfer station.
Town Administrator Joy Garland said Clyde officials are in the process of tabulating how much more the extra miles will cost and whether the town should put the job out for bid.
Clyde currently pays Hanson Waste $2,850 a month to dispose of its trash, Garland said. The number was based on an estimated 505 stops.
Haywood County officials hope to save $800,000 a year by shutting down the county’s trash transfer station, a move that is two years in the making and will go into effect this July.
In addition to annual operating costs, the county would have faced a $1.8 million expense to replace the rusted and broken bailer, which compacts trash to fit as much as possible in a landfill-bound tractor-trailer.
The county commissioners argued that the transfer station only benefits those who have town trash pick-up or pay a private hauler. However, towns said that the closure creates a quandary for them and their residents. Town residents will still have to subsidize their trash disposal while county residents will not. Currently, both groups play $92 a year to use the landfill.
County residents who do not have trash pick up can drop their trash at one of 10 convenience centers, and the county hauls it the remainder of the way to White Oak. The county will continue to operate the centers at a cost of $680,000.
An alternative energy project to convert methane landfill gas into electricity will cost Haywood County a little extra after a wrench was thrown into the plans.
The county will have to fork over an additional $45,000 and bring in a new contractor to finish the job after the original company hired to do the work was unable to complete it.
In 2010, Haywood County embarked on a three-phase $1.2 million project to use methane gas emanating from the old Francis Farm Landfill near Waynesville.
KSD Enterprise was contracted in September 2011 to build a generator and its associated parts to convert the gas into electricity, which would then be sold on the power grid. However, it became evident that the company had not factored an integral part of the project — a system to actually connect the generator with the utility lines — into its bid and did not plan to supply it. Without it, the heating system would not work.
KSD Enterprise was the sole bidder on the contract and agreed to complete the job for about $45,600. Haywood County leaders were pleasantly surprised by the bid, which was lower than anticipated. As a result of a low bid to start with, the project will still come in below budget even with the extra cost for the missing component.
“They (KSD) are really the only provider who could meet our timeline,” said Mark Cathey, senior project manager with McGill Associates, which is overseeing the venture.
Now, the county must shell out an additional $45,750 to another company to manufacture and install the interconnector. The Haywood County Board of Commissioners approved a contract for the missing link with the Wake Forest-based PowerSecure Inc. at its Monday meeting.
The commissioners reduced the scope of KSD Enterprises’ contract to exclude the interconnector.
The county contends the original contract with KSD Enterprises stipulated that they would provide the interconnector. It could press the company to make good on providing the component, but such action would mean costly delays.
“We do not have the time frame to do that,” Cathey said.
The county must complete the project by April 15 in order to receive a $1 million grant from the N.C. State Energy Office — thus the cost of a lawsuit would severely outweigh the benefits.
The county does not want to jeopardize a $1 million grant to haggle about $45,000, said David Francis, a Haywood County tax administrator and solid waste committee member.
With the $1 million in state funds, the county will need only to chip in the remaining $200,000.
When the county put the project out to bid, it received only one response. It was somewhat pigeonholed by the terms of the grant and the state utility commission’s restrictions on generator sizes. Otherwise, the county might have gotten a greater response, Cathey said.
The county kicked off the more than yearlong alternative energy project with the drilling of 21 gas extraction wells. The wells direct and funnel the flow of the gas, which would otherwise drift horizontally in the ground before rising into the air.
Even without the considerable funding boost from the state, the county would have been required by the Environmental Protection Agency to somehow dissipate or otherwise use the gas. Methane, a byproduct of decomposing trash, is a volatile pollutant that contributes to global warming.
Once the project is complete, methane will power a generator to make electricity. The county plans to sell the power to Haywood Electric Membership Corporation, which serves 25,000 customers in the Haywood area.
The county still doesn’t know how much gas the now-closed landfill will actually produce and therefore, don’t know how much money they will make on the sale of the resulting electricity to HEMC.
“We probably won’t know for a year because the landfill is so wet,” Francis said. Once the land dries, it will release the methane more quickly, he said, adding that the county should be able to profit off of the gas for 15 years.
The Haywood County Board of Commissioners met for two hours Monday to discuss and approve a myriad of county business items. Among them are:
• The county commissioners approved a resolution allowing the Haywood County Sheriff’s Department to enter into mutual aid agreements with other town and county law enforcement agencies. The agreements will set guidelines for how and when these agencies will cross jurisdictional lines to fight crime.
• A public hearing regarding the revised Flood Hazard Development Ordinance, new flood maps and a flood insurance study at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 23 prior to the commissioner meeting.
• The county will hire three full-time night custodians, a cost of about $94,000, to clean the new county building, formerly the old Walmart.
• The Haywood County Animal Welfare Association will receive $32,000 during the coming year from the N.C. State Spay/Neuter Program. The association is a nonprofit that provides low or no-cost spay and neuter services for low-income pet owners.
• Haywood County will get $459,635 from selling the property occupied by Smoky Mountain Mental Health Center to the agency. The mental health agency had leased two buildings on 1.79 acres of county-owned land for years but will now purchase it.
Haywood County is inching closer to exiting the landfill business, with plans to hand over the county’s White Oak landfill operations to a private company who will sell space to out-of-county haulers.
County commissioners will vote next month whether to enter into a contract with Santek Environmental to run the landfill.
The county would pay Santek a flat fee of $127,000 a month to run day-to-day operations of the landfill. Santek would also make money by selling space in the county’s landfill for trash from other places. Trash would only be accepted from other places in Western North Carolina, not other states.
Santek would get to keep the money from selling space in the landfill. If and when the landfill hits a threshold of 396 tons per day — including the county’s own trash as well as trash from elsewhere — the county would get a 5 percent cut of the money made by selling landfill space.
At that point, the county would no longer pay a flat fee and instead pay $22.25 per ton.
Once Santek hits the magic number of 396 tons a day, economies of scale would kick in, allowing Santek to reduce what the county pays to dump its own trash as well as share a cut of the revenue from selling landfill space.
The landfill currently takes in about 150 tons of trash a day from households and businesses in Haywood County. Trash from other places would exceed the county’s own volume of trash if Santek hits the 396 tons-a-day mark.
If hired the company will answer to the county’s current Solid Waste Director Stephen King.
David Francis, the county tax administrator who has also been spearheading the landfill project, laid out the proposed contract with the Tennessee firm at a commissioners’ meeting last week.
The central selling point made by Francis is the cost savings to the county. The county is projecting a yearly savings of $417,136 if Santek takes over the place.
That number includes some operational savings, but also includes about $1.1 million in what they’re calling “capital improvements,” big projects like new truck scales and a new scale house, a wheel wash station and mechanisms to keep the public off the face of the landfill.
In the past, the necessity of such improvements has been debated, but Francis says that he sees the measures, especially those limiting access to the active face, as essentials.
“Putting that drop off there prevents the public going out to the face of the landfill. I think it’s a genuine public concern,” said Francis, who recalled a 2009 incident in which a man died while dumping his trash. “I don’t think it’s a wish list, I think it’s a necessity.”
Of those improvements, the county would contribute $75,000 to the wheel wash, which Francis said will stop complaints from the N.C. Department of Transportation about the trash and mud tracked back into the environment from trucks departing the landfill.
Extra equipment like new heavy machinery and trucks are not included in the calculations.
Though talk of cost savings often means job cuts, county staff said part of the deal with Santek is that hourly employees at White Oak would be offered jobs with the new company at their current pay scale. King would also stay on and other employees would likely be brought in by Santek to make the upgrades and run the dump.
The greatest savings, however, are not in operations, but that day years in the future when the landfill is eventually closed down, said Julie Davis, county finance director.
Closing the landfill and maintaining it for years after its closure is an expensive proposition, and the county is currently on the hook for it.
“Currently, the county has a liability for these costs of over $5 million,” said Davis.
The county also has to pay to expand new sections of the landfill as the existing cells fill up. The county just spent $4.5 million opening up a new section of the landfill.
Under the new contract, Santek would build all future cells to house the county’s trash. And after reaching the 396 ton-per-day threshold, it would be responsible for closure and post-closure costs.
Getting to that threshold, said Francis, would likely take several years of trucking in out-of-county trash, something that raises the hackles of opponents to the plan.
White Oak now takes trash from this county alone, but under Santek, any of the 17 other western counties can find a home for their trash there.
Francis and King assured commissioners that the outside trash would be only household and commercial — nothing hazardous, nothing toxic, no construction trash — and nothing from other states.
Opponents to the plan have voiced concern that the county’s landfill — built at great expense to county tax payers — would get filled up with trash from other places too quickly, leaving the county with nowhere for its own trash a few decades from now.
The landfill was thought to have 30 years of life left, and Santek has contractually assured the county that it will still get 30 years out of it.
But the question hanging in the air from commissioners is how is that enforceable?
Santek will give the county up to $1.5 million in performance bonds that they’ll meet that three-decade goal, and the county will likely hire an engineering firm to regularly check that it’s not filling the place too fast.
The concern remains, however, that it would result in a too-little-too-late scenario. Sure, the cash would be nice, but siting the White Oak landfill was an onerous task. Finding another suitable landfill location would be nigh upon impossible, even with a few million in hand.
Francis said they won’t let it get that far.
“We’re going to do this year on year,” said Francis. “One of these things as a county that we’re not going to let happen is get to year 21 and say, ‘Man, we’re out of space.’”
Commissioner Michael Sorrells, however, wanted a clearer explanation of how such a situation would be prevented.
“That’s a very important issue to the public that we are protected in that 30-year life, and I think that probably needs to be explained more thoroughly how that’s going to be done,” said Sorrells.
Commissioner Kevin Ensley questioned the savings to the public. Davis estimated that the county would save $29.1 million at White Oak over the 30-year life of the contract. But would those savings be passed on to the citizens?
The answer was yes and no.
The $92 fee per household tacked on to residential property tax bills each year probably wouldn’t go down. But it probably wouldn’t go up, either.
Francis said that to keep running waste like the county is today with privatization, the cost to households could jump to $150. That, however, includes that $1.1 million in “capital improvements.”
One population who will not be saving in the plan is residents of Waynesville and Canton. Those towns will no longer be able to haul their trash to the centrally-located transfer station but will have to truck it directly to the landfill in far-flung White Oak.
The cost of trucking that waste out to White Oak will now fall on towns. But that will happen whether Santek comes in or not.
The transfer station in Clyde, known as the Materials Recovery Facility or MRF, would still be open to the general public wanting to drop bulky items or metal without driving to White Oak.
County Manager Marty Stamey emphasized that joining with Santek shouldn’t mean giving up total control at White Oak, but he maintained that the county couldn’t continue running it alone without upping the costs for consumers.
“We needed a public-private partnership,” said Stamey. “We didn’t want somebody coming in here and strong-arming us. We needed a good fit and Santek is that good fit for us.”
A public hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, at the next commissioners’ meeting. The issue will likely be voted on at the board’s Oct. 3 meeting.
A public hearing on whether to contract with an outside firm to run Haywood County’s landfill, including selling space in the landfill, will be held at 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, at the historic courthouse.
Haywood County is seriously considering turning over operations of the county landfill to a private company in hopes of saving money.
The proposal also includes selling space in the landfill, allowing other locales to ship their trash here for a fee. Commissioners have been exploring the idea for nearly a year, and are now closing in on a final plan.
In a work session on the issue last week, commissioners reviewed proposals from private companies interested in taking over the landfill. Of the three companies that showed interest, only one presented a plan that would save the county money, according to Tax Administration Director David Francis.
The clear front-runner among the proposals was from Cleveland, Tenn.-based Santek Environmental Services, a big player in the trash business with 14 disposal sites in eight states.
Santek pitched a full takeover of the county’s White Oak landfill, including the environmental monitoring that has caused the county woes — and fines — in recent months. The company would also install new scales and a scale house for weighing, which are needed to continue operations, Francis said.
The landfill’s roads are notoriously bad and difficult to navigate for residents coming to dump trash. Santek would build a public drop-off station to close the working face of the landfill to traffic. They would also install a truck wash to prevent larger trucks from tracking dirt and other contaminants into the environment when they leave.
The real money spinner of Santek’s proposal, however, is letting out-of-county garbage be dumped into the landfill for a fee.
But selling landfill space is a contentious issue. Detractors are concerned that such a move would be the first step towards making the site a kind of megadump, a stream of unsightly truckloads of trash rolling through the county.
The companion concern, of course, is longevity. At current capacity, Solid Waste Manager Stephen King has said that the site could last the county another 30 years. Santek has promised to maintain that number, even with the increased volume.
Bringing in more trash from outside not only provides a revenue stream, but it also allows the landfill to realize an economy of scale. To some extent, overhead to operate the landfill is the same regardless of how much trash is coming in. More volume means each ton of trash costs less to handle.
The county generates 150 tons a day of its own trash. Santek said once the landfill hits a critical mass of 325 tons per day, the cost to the county might start going down.
Once the 325-ton mark is reached, Santek will foot the bill for landfill expansion and closing costs associated with the end of the landfill’s life — two of the largest trash-related expenses.
The county would need to save $454,500 every year for the next 30 to cover the landfill’s projected closing costs. Since the county can’t borrow against the landfill, it must all be saved in advance.
So commissioners were suitably impressed by Santek’s promise of such large savings without losing landfill life.
“So we’re looking at a situation that we can potentially save Haywood County taxpayers a tremendous amount of money and still guarantee the same life?” asked Commissioner Michael Sorrells, to which the answer was yes, according to Santek’s proposal.
The county’s staff analysis of the proposal put savings at $480,000 for a 20-year contract and $462,000 under a 10-year agreement.
Initially, commissioners seemed wary of the promise to maintain a 30-year life. If they can, the question was posed, why can’t we?
And the answer boiled down to expertise.
“They have more available resources than we actually have,” said King, noting that the cost of improving county resources to that level of efficiency would be exorbitant.
The other major asset the Santek plan will pay for is landfill expansion, which Francis said could cost $15.5 million over the next 30 years.
All told, the Santek proposal would save residents $24 yearly on their annual fees compared to maintaining the status quo of county operations.
Francis cautioned commissioners that, while the Santek option appears to offer significant savings, it won’t fix every problem at White Oak.
“This is not a silver bullet that will solve everything,” said Francis. “There will be some time there that they need to get up to that 325 [tons].”
As the 39th largest waste company in the nation, Santek already runs several other landfills.
Bradley County, Tenn., contracted with the company over a decade ago, after the City of Cleveland, their biggest landfill customer, started trucking their waste elsewhere, leaving the county hemorrhaging money on the site.
County Mayor Gary Davis said that he was initially reluctant to open the dump to out-of-county waste, but saw few alternative options to keep the budget from dipping into the red.
“I was torn. I want the landfill to last forever, but at the same time there has to be enough going into it to produce the revenue to offset those costs,” said Davis, though he said he’s happy with the way Santek’s been operating, and even happier with the no-cost situation it puts his county in. “Bradley County has no cost, period.”
Crawford County, Ohio, went into business with the company because of repeated run-ins with the Environmental Protection Agency and the small matter of an $8 million debt on their landfill.
Crawford County Commissioner Mo Ressallat said his board felt uncomfortable with competing against the private sector, so when the choice came down to going into the trash business to stay afloat or turning over operations to Santek, they chose the latter.
“It was the cost factor,” said Ressallat. “Because we thought the government really shouldn’t be doing business, competing against the private.”
He said that since then they’ve been pretty happy with the arrangement. “It’s been a good marriage, really.”
In Rhea County, Tenn., the county waste disposal department was running at a $370,000 loss in 2010. But waste officials maintained that it wasn’t the fault of the Santek-run landfill, which they say is profitable. The county’s nine convenience centers were, apparently, to blame, and all are run in-house.
Back in Haywood County, that’s a concern for commissioners, too. Santek’s proposal, unlike some others, didn’t touch the transfer station, so the county will have to make a separate decision about whether or not to close it.
At the work session, Francis clarified that the station would always stay open to individual residents, but “large haulers,” like commercial dumpers and municipalities might no longer get to use the facility, which is another controversial element to the plan.
The Solid Waste Committee is expected to bring recommendations to the board in early February.