Port Angeles garbage flow control proposal raises county concerns
By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News
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PORT ANGELES — A city effort to ensure a consistent flow of garbage, and therefore revenue, to the Port Angeles regional waste transfer station has drawn concerns from Clallam County commissioners.
City officials have a proposed a solid waste flow control ordinance that would require all waste generated within the city limit and not already picked up curbside to be taken to the regional transfer station at the west end of 18th Street.
It would be a way to help to repay bonds for a $19.6 million project to shore up a failing bluff next to the transfer station and prevent decades of buried garbage from falling into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The project will shift buried waste at the shuttered landfill back from the eroding bluff and reduce the risk of garbage falling into the Strait, city officials have said.
Council members will consider the proposed ordinance, which will not affect recyclable materials, at their Feb. 4 meeting after they held a first reading on it Tuesday.
City Manager Dan McKeen said staff members are encouraging commissioners to adopt a similar ordinance requiring all waste produced in unincorporated Clallam County east of Fairholme near Lake Crescent to be taken to the transfer station.
Commissioner Mike Chapman, a Port Angeles resident, said a county flow control rule would only allow the city to incur more debt that residents would eventually have to pay off.
“I think this project could be slowed down a bit,” Chapman said Thursday.
“It needs to be something we can afford as a community without such large increases in the amount of debt being incurred.”
“I just see this ordinance as a vehicle to enable further borrowing to maintain status quo of how we do business, and frankly, all three of us have some concerns on how the status quo is,” Chapman said at a Jan. 13 county work session when commissioners discussed a proposed county ordinance presented by county Public Works Administrative Director Bob Martin.
Tipping fees from a steady flow of waste to the transfer station would be used to help pay off an estimated $15.7 million in bonds needed to complete the project, according to city Public Works and Utilities Director Craig Fulton.
“Flow control is not being put in place to increase revenue; it’s being put in place to maintain steady revenue,” Fulton said at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“Without flow control, the bond holders would demand very high interest rates, which would then drive up the cost of the project, that would have an adverse impact on the tipping fees,” Fulton said in a later interview.
“Everything is being driven to reduce the overall cost of the project, and that would reduce the cost of tipping fees.”
The city has secured $3.9 million in financial assistance from the state Department of Ecology.
The per-ton cost for residents to haul their own garbage to the transfer station jumped 19 percent from 2013 to 2014: from $142 per ton to just more than $170.
“I feel like our tipping fees have become so expensive it’s discouraging people from coming,” Councilwoman Cherie Kidd said.
The transfer station is the sole responsibility of the city, McKeen said, which contracts with Waste Connections to operate it.
Commissioners have agreed to wait to consider a county ordinance, and potentially set a public hearing on it, until after the city votes on its own, County Administrator Jim Jones said Thursday.
Commissioner Mike Doherty said he would like to see more of an emphasis placed on recycling included in any flow control ordinance considered for the county.
“It’s not in favor of recycling; it’s hauling, processing and compacting,” Doherty said.
Chapman said he would consider a county flow control ordinance as locking in a “monopoly” in favor of the transfer station in west Port Angeles.
“I think that there are contractors that do work in Kitsap, Jefferson and Clallam [counties], and they may have other arrangements with other solid waste facilities to take their construction waste,” Chapman said Thursday.
“This ordinance would force them to use only the facility in Clallam County [for waste produced in Clallam County].”
City Chief Financial Officer Byron Olson estimated the city’s current debt, incurred mostly through utility infrastructure maintenance and improvement costs, at $57 million.
Part of that is from the ongoing effort to reduce the amount of combined sewer overflow discharges into Port Angeles — work expected to total $42 million.
Overall — counting the CSO and landfill projects — the city could have to shell out between $57.5 million and $65.2 million over the next 20 years to deal with environmental projects.
“Utilities always have debt because that’s how they pay for all of their infrastructure,” Olson said.
“All these issues are coming due at about the same time, and when you add the landfill, it puts a significant burden on all the ratepayers of the city.”
Olson said the city’s debt is one of the key points in ongoing talks on the city’s long-ranging financial planning.
Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: January 23. 2014 6:59PM