Spokane’s trash incinerator would no longer burn Canadian oil field trash and imported pesticide jugs under a new agreement between agencies that oversee the garbage plant.
The accord would end four years of power struggles between local solid waste and air quality officials about what besides regular trash can be burned in the plant.
It also would resolve a 1997 state violation notice to the city for exceeding carbon monoxide levels at the trash plant during the November 1996 ice storm.
Spokane could have been fined $10,000 a day per violation at each of the plant’s two burners from Nov. 21 to 30, 1996, which occurred as plant managers struggled to burn ice storm debris.
Under the accord, the carbon monoxide violation would stand. But there would be no fine and the city would agree not to contest the violation in court.
“This is good news for the citizens of Spokane,” Tony Grover, the Washington Department of Ecology’s new regional director, said at a Monday meeting at City Hall.
Grover served as mediator for the agreement, which now goes to Spokane city and county elected officials for their approval.
Participants in the “special waste” negotiations included staff from the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority, the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System and the Spokane Regional Health District.
The dispute over special wastes first flared in 1994 when Phil Williams, the city’s former solid waste disposal chief, agreed to burn 1,056 tons of Canadian pesticide jugs in the trash plant.
That triggered a threatened fine from SCAPCA, strong criticism from clean-air groups, and complaints by garbage workers of headaches, stomachaches and sore throats while working near the pesticide containers.
SCAPCA and the city clashed on the issue. SCAPCA’s attorney said the clean-air agency could fine the city; the city’s hired lawyer said no. SCAPCA’s board told the feuding agencies to agree on what could be burned in the plant.
Efforts in 1995 by former state Ecology Director Claude Sappington to mediate a compromise failed.
For a while, city officials backed away from their practice of burning “special wastes” in the plant at a premium price.
But in 1996 and 1997, they again began to accept large quantities of the special trash - including more pesticide containers.
The controversy flared anew after Ecology informed SCAPCA that another Canadian company was sending 20 cubic yards of oil-soaked absorbent rags from a British Columbia diesel spill to the plant.
That prompted SCAPCA Director Eric Skelton to notify Ecology last year he could no longer certify that the plant was meeting the conditions of its state air quality permit.
City officials said the plant wasn’t burning enough of the special discards to affect emissions.
The new agreement cools the rhetoric. It acknowledges the primacy of SCAPCA for air quality issues, and says SCAPCA and the Health District both have a role in overseeing emissions for public health reasons.
The plant would continue to accept oil filters from cars and trucks both inside and outside Spokane County; industrial trash that isn’t dangerous waste; and other out-of-county solid waste, including stale airline food and the Boeing Co.’s military secrets in shredded documents.
But the plant would not accept the more controversial discards, especially pesticide containers and spill materials from Canada.
“Alberta oil field wastes will no longer be burned here,” SCAPCA’s Skelton said.
When there’s doubt about whether a waste is acceptable, the parties would consult beforehand, said Damon Taam, the city’s solid waste director.
“We have lots more safety nets now,” Taam said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: THE ACCORD The agreement bans burning oil field waste and pesticide containers at the incinerator.
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