Opinion

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 12, 2014

Editorial: Waste shift good news for both city and county

The agreement to turn the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System over to the county is business as usual in the rest of Washington, but it does cap a tumultuous era in the region’s history.

From the leaking landfills of the 1980s, to the controversial construction of the Waste-to-Energy Plant, the disposal of waste has been a giant headache. But the garbage wars have largely faded, and most residents are getting convenient service at reasonable rates.

Plus, recycling has been brought into the 21st century.

With this deal, most municipalities in the county get what they claimed they wanted: greater control over the system. To gain control, the county is purchasing the Valley and Colbert transfer stations for $9.9 million from the city. It has seven years to pay. In the meantime, the county has agreed to burn trash at the city’s incinerator for three years. After that, it could choose a cheaper option as long as the transfer stations are paid for.

A county consultant who assessed several options said this was the cheapest.

The new agreement unwinds another reached in 1988, when the region was in urgent need of a better way to dispose of its waste. Normally, counties are in charge of solid waste disposal, but the city was in a better position financially to build the incinerator and transfer stations. So as part of the deal to get the facilities built, the county ceded most control to the city. The bonds are due to be paid off in November, which allows the county to regain control.

As with any compromise, there are drawbacks. City of Spokane residents could see rates edge up if the county and other cities stop burning trash at the incinerator. And because county ratepayers are essentially paying for the transfer stations a second time, there will be a small increase in monthly bills. On the other hand, it would cost the county far more than it’s paying the city to build new stations.

The bottom line is that the cost of waste disposal in Spokane County is still reasonable. Residents of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties pay more.

A key to keeping costs down will be participation from surrounding cities and towns. Spokane Valley leaders haven’t decided whether to join the regional system, but state law may bring them into the fold. Any city that goes it alone would have to write its own solid waste plan and finance the cost of mandated programs, such as recycling education and hazardous waste disposal. If Spokane Valley were to opt out, its residents would probably face higher charges for using the city’s incinerator or the county’s transfer stations.

The governing of garbage is complex, balancing environmental and financial concerns with local politics. Most people just want to know that their bill is reasonable and that the bin will be empty when they get home. This transfer of control won’t change that.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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