Trash shuffle prompts Canton to privatize garbage pick-up

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.


Voice your opinion

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 The website also lists what items the county currently recycles.

Haywood pitches in to help towns deal with trash transport costs

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.

Going the distance: Hauling costs rise to reach Haywood’s far-flung landfill

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’s recycling dreams

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.


Canton’s long haul

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 in the clear

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.


Why the trash talk?

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.

Haywood to cash in on landfill methane

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.


Methane power

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.


In other news

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 closes in on deal to privatize landfill

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.


Selling landfill space

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.


Want to weigh in?

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.

Selling landfill space gains traction in Haywood

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.


Selling off landfill space

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].”


Santek’s track record

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.

Public hearing set for landfill problem

Jackson County’s old solid waste landfill is leaking contaminants in higher concentrations than allowed into the groundwater, and satisfying state demands to safely contain the situation will cost taxpayer dollars.

Altamont Inc. representative Joel Lenk told commissioners this week that drinking water in the area has not been contaminated and is safe to use. The old landfill is less than a mile from Dillsboro. Several families living near the it rely on individually drilled wells for water, according to a report based on the company’s findings.

Altamont, headquartered in Asheville, collects water-monitoring samples at the old landfill for Jackson County.

Commissioners this week set a public hearing — as mandated by the regulating agency, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources — on possible remedies. The hearing will be held Feb. 7 at 1:30 p.m. After that, the next step will be to develop a state-approved corrective action plan, Lenk said.

The most expensive remedy, which involves treating the groundwater at the site, could cost more than $1 million. Responding to questions by Chairman Jack Debnam, Lenk said, however, the county will probably be able to pay his company an additional $10,000 per year for sampling and to satisfy the state.

Debnam, newly elected in November, initially proposed setting the hearing time for 1:45 p.m., with a regularly scheduled meeting starting at 2 p.m. Mark Jones, a veteran commissioner on the board, suggested moving the time back because, he said to Debnam, “you might draw a bigger crowd” than realized given the possible environmental implications.

Jones’ concerns that holding a public hearing during working hours might not give people an adequate opportunity to attend, however, were brushed aside. Debnam pointed out the board would be providing people the state-required 30 days notice.


Landfill timeline

• Groundwater sampling starts in 1998, Altamont company hired.

• Jackson County starts testing residential water-supply wells on annual basis in the late 1990s from residents who consented to sampling.

• At the same time, Jackson County installed and began monitoring landfill gas probes along the perimeter of the property.

• The last shipment of waste was taken at the landfill in June 2001.

• A monitoring well was installed into bedrock in 2004 to determine whether impacted groundwater was migrating northward toward a residential water well.

• In 2005, a full-scale operation of extracting landfill gas started. It was thought that the removal of the gas could provide benefits to groundwater quality.

• In July 2010, an additional bedrock monitoring well was installed to evaluate groundwater quality in fractured bedrock southwest of the landfill.

White Oak citizens seek well testing ahead of landfill privatization agreement

While Haywood County’s bid for privatizing the White Oak Landfill is still being considered, the site has now drawn the eye and ire of residents on its borders who fear contamination of their wells by its contents.

The citizens, led by White Oak resident Sylvia Blakeslee, have approached the county to request that 32 of the wells in their community be tested for heavy metals and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Blakeslee said she and her neighbors in the White Oak community are concerned because of the recent infractions the landfill faced, including waste being found outside the liner that was, at best guess, up to 10 years old, according to Haywood County Solid Waste Director Stephen King. Blakeslee said they’re also worried by the relatively unstable geologic structure beneath the landfill, pointing to a 1990 hydrogeologic report that warned of “high potential for groundwater contamination.”

“My well is the most critical,” said Blakeslee, who produced a topographic map marking the locations of several wells along the edge of the landfill. “That’s why I’m concerned.”

Her request, however, wasn’t granted by the county, who passed it on to the Asheville regional office of the state Division of Water Quality. They, in turn, realizing that the matter was under the jurisdiction of the state’s solid waste group, tossed it up the chain once more. The request landed with Ervin Lane, a compliance hydrogeologist for the North Carolina Division of Waste Management.

He hasn’t come up with an answer yet, but said he’s looking at testing data from the last 10 years to as recently as April to see if the wells do need to be tested.

“We just look at the data to determine if we think that there is an immediate threat,” said Lane, adding that “the landfill is not really in close proximity of where the wells are located, so we have to just take it step by step.”

King, however, doesn’t see a need for the wells to be tested. He said test wells that actually border or sit within the bounds of the landfill have never turned up any abnormal or increased results for heavy metals or VOCs, and even the ground underneath the off-liner waste wasn’t contaminated, much less the groundwater.

“There was no evidence at all that it even contaminated the ground,” said King. “The clay acted like a natural barrier. We tested a foot underneath the waste and all the way around it and didn’t even find any contamination in the dirt itself.”

But, he said, if Lane returns with evidence that the wells need to be tested, then he will take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of residents’ groundwater.

For her part, Blakeslee said her intention is not to stir trouble. However, when she heard of a possible plan to privatize the landfill, she shifted into gear, poring through papers and thoroughly researching the landfill’s history and possible future.

That’s when concerns about her groundwater and that of her neighbors began to surface. Fearing a rush decision on the site’s possible sale by county commissioners, she passed around a petition and forwarded the paper, with its 40 signatures, to County Manager David Cotton. Her fear, she said, is finding waste in her wells after privatization and being stuck to deal with the consequences on her own.

“I don’t think I have any contamination. I don’t want to have it,” said Blakeslee. “I just want to find out before they sell it [the landfill] off, because then what recourse do I have?”

She concedes that neither she nor any of her neighbors have found or noticed contaminated water, and King and Lane were both unsure of the residents’ motivations for requesting tests now.

But, as Blakeslee said, many of them are concerned about what will happen if site operations are turned over to a private company. Even if their wells get turned down for testing, she said, she will continue to lobby commissioners to research thoroughly any proposal to bring outside trash into White Oak.

“The way to solve it is not to throw it off on somebody else,” said Blakeslee. “Because this has got far, far reaching consequences if the wrong decision is made.”

In a committee meeting on Monday, county commissioner Mark Swanger assured staff and residents that they were in no rush to pawn off the landfill and would wait for all the information before making any recommendations or decisions.

Blakeslee said that’s all she’s asking from the county commissioners: the best, most-informed decision.

I just want them to make the right decision,” she said. “We have a beauty spot and we don’t want it to turn into a boil then a cancer.”

Few takers step up to run Haywood’s landfill

Selling space in the Haywood County landfill might not be the windfall some county leaders were hoping for.

Haywood’s quest for trash savings dumps costs on towns

Controversy over closing down the Haywood County trash transfer station has resurfaced now that commissioners have put the idea back on the front burner.

County commissioners postponed a decision earlier this year on whether to shut down the transfer station but promised to take up the issue in coming months when they could devote more time to it. It’s now back on the table as commissioners weigh whether to contract out landfill and trash operations to a private firm.

Perry Samuels, the main driver for Jim’s Garbage Service, dreads making the trek all the way to White Oak landfill should the county close the transfer station. It could be the death knell for Samuels, one of a dozen or so trash haulers in the county who pick up garbage every week for a fee.

The extra distance for each haul would add hours to his day and cost more gas, neither of which he can afford.

Theoretically, trash haulers could pass along the extra costs to customers. But Samuels said it wouldn’t fly.

“I would say if we raised our rates, a lot of people would quit us,” Samuels said. He charges $20 a month for weekly trash pick-up — and that’s already too much for some people. Many customers dropped trash pick-up thanks to recession-inspired penny-pinching.

Another problem is that the landfill is not suitable for high volumes of traffic. There are no clear roads through the landfill. Instead, trucks must navigate giant piles of trash strewn across acres and acres of a mud flat in order to dump their loads. Even a mild rain renders it impassable, so trash trucks must be towed by bulldozers.

“You have to get drug in with a bulldozer and drug out with a bulldozer,” Samuels said. The frame on one of his older trucks broke during such an operation, and he can’t afford to buy a new one.

“If we had to buy a new truck, we would just have to quit,”

Samuels said. “We are operating on a shoestring. I got one truck held together with duct tape, baling wire and shoestring. Come out and take a look if you don’t believe me.”

Trash trucks for the town of Waynesville have also been damaged when being towed by dozers, incurring “expensive repairs,” according to Town Manager Lee Galloway.

But county commissioners are eyeing the savings to be gained from shutting the transfer station — roughly $800,000 a year. They argue that the transfer station only benefits a segment of the population: those who have town trash pick-up or pay a private hauler.

Stephen King, the county solid waste director, said all the taxpayers are subsidizing a service used by some.

“We are trying to do what is best for the entire county,” King said. “If the towns chose to go around and pick up, that is their choice. I can’t change what we do because the towns want that service.”

If the towns and private haulers want to keep the transfer station open, they can pay for it themselves, he said.

“From a taxpayer standpoint if you could save $20 off your household fee by having the towns pay for that service themselves, do you not think county taxpayers would want to do that?” King said.


Double standard

There is a catch, however. The county would continue to subsidize convenience centers where residents without door-to-door drop their trash.

If the county will continue to operate convenience centers free for those outside town limits, why not operate the transfer station for those who live in town, argued Galloway.

There are two legs to the trash journey for everyone. The first leg is getting your trash to a central collection point.

For people without trash pick-up, that means dropping it at a convenience center. For those who live in town or pay a private hauler, their trash is taken to the transfer station.

The second leg of the trash journey — the journey the rest of the way to the White Oak landfill — is picked up by the county, whether it’s from the convenience centers or the transfer station.

Towns argue that closing the transfer station creates a double standard for town residents versus county residents. They both pay the same landfill fee on their county tax bill of $92 a year. Yet one would continue to have their trash journey subsidized and the other would not.

The towns have protested the plan as inequitable, but Galloway said the towns have had a difficult time making their case to county officials.

“The question was asked, ‘Why should county residents subsidize hauling trash to White Oak for town residents,’” Galloway recounted of his meeting with county officials. “We said, ‘Wait a minute … we would still be subsidizing the cost of transporting trash for the people who use the convenience centers.’”

Galloway understands the county’s quest for savings.

“The bottom line is garbage is a terribly expensive proposition,” Galloway said. “I am in total sympathy with the county in that regard. But whatever they do needs to be fair to everybody and fair to the entire county. It is not a Waynesville problem. It is a problem for all 60,000 people.”

But commissioners can’t shake the prospect of saving $800,000 a year.

“The savings are real,” Commissioner Kevin Ensley said. “The general public is looking for us to run an efficient government.”

Ensley said the feedback from constituents is overwhelmingly in favor of closing the transfer station. In fact, they don’t understand why there’s even a debate over it.

“They see it as a no brainer,” Ensley said.

From a strictly economic viewpoint, Commissioner Bill Upton agreed. But there are two sides, Upton said.

“I guess I am in the middle again,” Upton said.


Not sustainable

The cost of operating the transfer station is $800,000 and the cost of convenience centers is $680,000.

King said a costly overhaul would be needed to keep the transfer station going, however. Right now, the transfer station is a jerry-rigged operation.

“Our transfer station is in dire straits,” King said.

Trash dumped off by town trucks and private haulers must be repacked in a tractor-trailer and hauled to White Oak. Ideally, trash would be compacted and baled to fit as much as possible in each load bound for White Oak. But the baler at the transfer station rusted and broke from age. A new one would cost $1.8 million, King said.

Another option is to pack trash into tractor-trailers from above. That’s the way it’s done at the transfer stations in Macon and Jackson counties, and as a result, the tractor-trailers can hold 15 to 20 tons.

But at Haywood’s transfer station, the setup doesn’t allow tractor-trailer trucks to be filled from above. Instead, trash is merely shoveled up into piles by front-end loaders and pushed into the back of tractor trailer.

Workers can only fill the tractor-trailer about halfway before trash starts slipping back out. So trucks head to White Oak with only 7 or 8 tons, requiring twice as many trips.

“Every time our trucks leave out they are less than half full,” King said.

It also takes more manpower to shovel and push trash in the back door of the tractor-trailer rather than dumping in from above.

“We have to upgrade the transfer station. We cannot continue to operate the way we are operating,” King said.

But closing the transfer station would mean making upgrades to the landfill so town and commercial trucks can get in and out.

“We would request that appropriate facilities be constructed so that dumping can be done without encountering the mud and damage to these expensive vehicles,” Galloway wrote to the county in a letter expressing concerns over the plan.

There’s another problem: snow days. The road in and out of the landfill is steep, and last winter there were several days it wasn’t passable. Garbage was stockpiled at the transfer station until the landfill entry road thawed.


Macon also charges towns

Like Haywood, Macon County also has a transfer station. It saves private haulers and town trash trucks in Highlands from making the long trip down the mountain to the county landfill. But it costs them a transfer fee of $8.75 a ton.

Chris Stahl, solid waste director for Macon County, doesn’t feel bad passing along the cost of transporting trash from the transfer station to the landfill to the town residents.

“If you are saving someone an extra 30 minutes round trip by making that trip for them, I think it is proper for them to pay,” Stahl said. “The trash isn’t disposed of until it gets all the way to the landfill. If you are stopping somewhere short of that and the county is picking up the tab to go the rest of the way, the county is subsidizing that.”

The county apparently has no qualms about subsidizing the trash dropped off at Macon County’s eight convenience centers, however, which is hauled the rest of the way to the landfill on the county’s dime.

But Stahl doesn’t see the convenience centers in the same light as the transfer station.

“That hauling is an extra step that some people use and some people don’t. I don’t think it is fair to spread that cost out to everybody else,” Stahl said.

In addition to paying an extra transfer fee, the town of Highlands also chipped in to build the transfer station.

Haywood Commissioner Mark Swanger said the county and towns can work through the debate reasonably.

“This is not insurmountable,” Swanger said “Everybody needs to wait and see what kind of plan can evolve.”

But the towns aren’t content to simply wait. They can’t afford to, Galloway said. Instead, Waynesville is already putting together contingency plans.

“This fall will look at what our costs are to go elsewhere and possibly do our own thing,” Galloway said.

The town is already calculating its options — among them hauling trash to a private landfill in Buncombe instead.

“We have to look at those alternatives,” Galloway said.

Another option is for Waynesville to build its own transfer station, and allow the towns of Canton and Clyde, as well as private haulers, to share it.

The county may also be willing to keep the transfer station open if the town picks up the cost. But Galloway doesn’t like the double-standard.

“It would only be fair if we paid at the transfer station if people who use the convenience centers also paid,” Galloway said.


What is the transfer station?

The transfer station is a trash drop-off site in Clyde where town garbage trucks and commercial haulers can dump their loads instead of making the long trek to the White Oak landfill. The trash is shoveled with front-end loaders into the back of tractor-trailers and transported the rest of the way to the landfill by the county.

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