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Ownership of facility debated

Sat., Sept. 7, 2013

City, county clash on transfer station plan

Spokane Valley and Spokane County are at odds over ownership of the Valley Transfer Station under a proposed regional trash disposal plan.

During a joint meeting with the City Council and county commissioners, Spokane Valley representatives stated strongly that the city should own it.

“The ownership is very important to the Valley,” said Spokane Valley City Manager Mike Jackson. Ownership is necessary to “ensure we have a seat at the table and control over customer service.”

County Commissioner Todd Mielke said he believes the transfer station is a regional asset that should be owned by the county for the benefit of all residents.

Jackson said the city would still allow the county to run the Valley transfer station along with one in Colbert and a possible new facility on the West Plains. “It certainly would be a regional facility,” Jackson said.

The city has been working with Spokane County on waste management for years and paid for part of a recent study that examined various trash disposal options. Yet the city of Spokane and Spokane County put out a joint news release last week about the study without the involvement of Spokane Valley, Jackson said. He cited it as an example of why the city believes ownership of the transfer station is necessary to have its voice heard.

The press release was titled “Spokane County, City of Spokane release study on options for managing solid waste disposal.” It included a statement that Spokane Valley helped pay for the study, but did not mention of the city’s long collaboration with the other jurisdictions.

Commissioner Al French apologized for the omission and said it shouldn’t have happened. “It is a very unfortunate situation that the PIO’s for two jurisdictions did not include the third PIO,” he said. “That was not the direction of this board.”

Jackson said Spokane Valley favors the option known as 3A, which calls for the purchase of the Colbert and Valley transfer stations from Spokane at a fair market value and then hauling trash to a regional landfill using the railroad. The city believes the cost of that plan would be less per ton than Option 2, which has everyone sending their trash to the Waste to Energy plant for seven years, after which Spokane would sell the transfer stations to the county for $1.

“One way or another, you’re purchasing the transfer stations, either through the tipping fee or up front,” Jackson said. Using Option 2 wouldn’t solve any of the long-term issues, only postpone them seven years, he said. The city’s cost estimates are based on assumptions, but the entire study is based on assumptions, Jackson said. “Let’s put it out to bid. Then you know what the cost is.”

Mielke said he was concerned that Spokane might refuse to sell the transfer stations under Option 3A, forcing the county to build new ones at an estimated cost of $22 million. “I’m not sure that bodes well for any of our cost estimates,” he said.

Mielke said he prefers Option 2. “No. 1, we get certainty,” he said. “The second thing we get is a commitment from the city of Spokane to be a partner in a system. I want certainty as much as possible.”

Mielke said he would also address “the elephant in the room” and said he was concerned that if Spokane Valley owned the Valley transfer station it would have the ability to levy a utility tax on waste, including trash shipped in from Liberty Lake and Millwood. That would have the effect of taxing the residents of other cities.

Councilman Dean Grafos dismissed the idea that Spokane Valley was interested in imposing a tax. “We’re not trying to find a way to raise rates, we’re trying to keep the rates down for our citizens,” he said.

Mielke also said he worries that if Spokane Valley owns the Valley transfer station, it could decide at some point in the future to break away from the regional system.

Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said she believes that any regional trash disposal system must include Spokane, which means Option 2. The county should also own all the transfer stations. “I think regional assets should be regional assets for all the citizens of Spokane County,” she said. “There’s no reason you can’t be at the table even if you don’t own the transfer station.”

French said the three jurisdictions can sit down and come to an agreement. “I’m confident about that,” he said. “We just haven’t done it yet.”

The commissioners plan to hold a public hearing on Oct. 8, after which they will vote on which solid waste option to move forward with. The Spokane Valley City Council has not yet scheduled a vote.

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