Clallam commissioners against plan linked to paying for dump cleanup in Port Angeles

By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners balked Tuesday at a proposed county garbage flow ordinance that would help the city finance revenue bonds to clean up a portion of a landfill on the verge of slipping into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Board Chairman Mike Chapman urged city officials to “take a second look” at the ordinance that funnels waste to the Port Angeles Regional Transfer Station before saddling city residents with more debt to fix the landfill.

Chapman, a Port Angeles resident, raised philosophical objections to the city using bonds to finance much of the $19.6 million bluff-stabilization project.

He compared the project to the county's debt-free replacement of the structurally deficient Elwha River bridge in 2009.

Using asphalt shingles as an example, Commissioner Mike Doherty said the ordinance lacked a focus on recycling and failed to address climate change.

Commissioner Jim McEntire said he needed more information from Public Works Administrative Director Bob Martin about the “unanticipated effects” of the county proposal.

The board declined to schedule a public hearing on the ordinance, which would require waste generated in unincorporated Clallam County east of Fairholme to be taken to the transfer station in west Port Angeles.

Now, although most county waste already goes to the transfer station, no law directs that it must.

The county ordinance also was discussed Jan. 13, with Chapman and Doherty raising the same concerns.

City ordinance

The City Council approved a similar ordinance Feb. 4 that required most non-curbside waste be taken to the transfer station.

Garbage picked up on the curb through the city's contract with Waste Connections is already taken to the transfer station.

In some cases, such as renovations, waste in Port Angeles could have been picked up by a private business before the city law was passed.

City officials have said the ordinance does not apply to recycled material, medical waste or large quantities of ash.

Tipping fees from a steady flow of waste to the transfer station would be used to help pay off bonds.

An estimated $15.7 million in bonds is needed to complete the project, city Public Works and Utilities Director Craig Fulton has said. The city has secured $3.9 million in financial assistance from the state Department of Ecology.

'Always a crisis'

“There's always a crisis,” Chapman said.

“There's always a project, and there's always money to borrow. But for goodness sakes, you've got 20,000 people with millions and millions of dollars to pay back for the next generation.

“This would just be another enabling of another $8 [million], $10 [million], $12 million worth of borrowing, whatever it might be.”

Chapman said the $19.7 million replacement of the Elwha River bridge was a “classic example” of refinancing a project without taking on debt.

City Manager Dan ­McKeen said the garbage in danger of falling off the bluff came from the entire region, not just the city.

Costly cleanup

The city and county would share in a costly cleanup if waste from the shuttered cell falls into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, McKeen said.

“The bottom line is that we have to fix the problem,” McKeen said.

“Right now, we have $4 million committed by the [state] Department of Ecology for this project. That $4 million isn't going to be there two years from now.”

By guaranteeing a revenue stream through flow control, city ratepayers and county self-haulers would benefit from a lower interest rate, McKeen said.

Chapman, who represents the central third of the county, said utility bills have soared over the past five to 10 years.

He expressed concerns that people on fixed incomes may be priced out of their homes by $400 utility bills in the winter.

Doherty questioned why asphalt shingles are being shipped from the transfer station to Eastern Oregon rather than being taken to the Seattle-Tacoma area to be recycled.

“It cannot be that difficult,” Doherty told Martin.

City Public Works and Utilities Director Craig Fulton said the transportation costs for recycling shingles are high, and it's time-consuming for roofers to separate and clean the shingles.

“Some of the metrics we're getting back are very, very poor,” Fulton said.

State subsidies?

Doherty said there may be state subsidies to offset the cost of recycling construction materials.

Meanwhile, Chapman encouraged the city to work with the state on the bluff-stabilization project before taking on more debt.

“I still suspect there's a different way to finance this without saddling the community with an unmanageable debt load,” Chapman said.

“The county over the years has put tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure projects without saddling our citizens with an unmanageable debt load.”

He added: “There's always a different way.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: February 18. 2014 8:09PM
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