Spokane County commissioners voted Tuesday to reorganize the county’s solid waste system in such a way that should not affect garbage service and rates to customers.
The city of Spokane has been running the countywide solid waste system under agreements reached nearly 25 years ago. The agreements are set to expire in November 2014.
The city is relinquishing control of the broader system but retaining ownership of the waste-to-energy incinerator on Geiger Boulevard.
Under a deal proposed by the city, the county would take over two outlying transfer and recycling facilities in Colbert and Spokane Valley in exchange for the county continuing to send garbage to the incinerator for up to seven years.
County commissioners said they haven’t exhausted their examination of options for shipping county garbage to regional landfills either by truck or rail.
The commissioners want to look at the feasibility of developing a transfer facility to ship garbage by rail on the Geiger Spur, which the county owns, Commissioner Al French said.
Commissioners are asking the city to give them an option of buying the city’s remaining interest in the two transfer stations after three years should the county find better options for garbage disposal.
The county will take over responsibility for a countywide solid waste plan that includes measures for recycling, waste reduction, hazardous waste, litter control and public education.
Cities within the county, including Spokane Valley, have the option of joining the county’s regional system or forming a system of their own, which requires extensive planning work.
Spokane Valley has not decided on how to manage its garbage yet. Other smaller cities are expected to join the county system, officials said.
Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said the vote on Tuesday “allows us to utilize existing assets that are already here in Spokane County.”
The plan approved by commissioners offered the least expensive of several options that were studied this year by a consultant, but commissioners said they want to continue to test those assumptions.
They said they are ready to solicit proposals from private firms on switching to a long-haul option, and are inviting the city to join them.
Commissioner Todd Mielke said the county had no choice but to take over the solid waste system if the city wants to get out. State law requires counties to take the lead in solid waste.
In public testimony, Bonnie Mager, a former county commissioner and longtime opponent of the incinerator, said the county should stop burning garbage because of the amount of toxic pollution and greenhouse gases emitted by the incinerator.
The incinerator has extensive pollution controls and is closely regulated by the state.
“Incineration is simply legalized pollution,” Mager said.