March 6, 2014 in Washington Voices

Transfer station prices could go up if towns don’t join regional system

By The Spokesman-Review
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Todd Harris tosses trash out of the bed of his pickup on Feb. 27 at the Spokane Valley Transfer Station. If the Spokane Valley City Council pulls out of the regional solid waste system, the cost for self-hauling of garbage, hazardous waste and yard debris may rise for residents to reflect the true costs of the service.
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As the county takes control of the regional solid waste management from Spokane, area cities must decide how their municipalities will fit into the new system.

Among the possible coming changes: Residents of towns who do not take part in the regional system could face higher charges at transfer stations.

At a meeting last week, Spokane County Commissioners said the current rates for self-hauling are subsidized by fees on regular garbage collection countywide.

But if the Spokane Valley and other city councils pull out of the regional system, the cost for self-hauling of garbage, hazardous waste and yard debris may rise for those city’s residents to reflect the true costs of the service at existing transfer stations.

Spokane Valley City Councilman Arne Woodard objected, calling the prospective charges “intimidation and threats.”

He was told that talk of higher fees is not a threat, just fiscal reality.

County commissioners in February concluded an agreement with the city of Spokane to take over the regional solid waste system on Nov. 18, including the Valley and North Side transfer stations.

Spokane City Hall would continue to have control over the waste-to-energy plant and transfer station at 2900 S. Geiger Blvd.

The agreement offers participating cities more influence over garbage policy. It also calls for the regional system to continue sending garbage to the incinerator for at least three years to maintain income for the incinerator and regional system.

The city in turn has guaranteed to maintain its current gate fee of $103 with future increases tied to the consumer price index.

County commissioners are looking to Spokane Valley, Airway Heights, Medical Lake, Deer Park, Millwood and other small cities to join to keep the system’s revenues strong without big changes or cost increases for residents.

Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing objected to $9 million in payments the regional system is making to the city of Spokane to offset the value of transfer stations on Sullivan Road and in Colbert.

County commissioners explained that the previous solid waste agreements called for Spokane to take ownership of the facilities when the agreements expired after the city used its financial assets to establish the system in the early 1990s.

So far, the smaller cities have been dragging their feet on making decisions despite a Nov. 17 deadline. The only exception is Cheney, which is moving to establish its own system.

Woodard explained that he wants more financial analysis on what it would cost Spokane Valley residents.

Spokane Valley Mayor Dean Grafos said he wants garbage disposal put out for bid so that a long-haul option could be compared with the cost of incinerator disposal. Commissioners said they plan to do that within three years.

A consultant study issued last year showed that the cost of long haul would likely be more expensive.

Breakaway cities would have to write their own detailed solid waste plans under oversight from the state and maintain at least the same level of service being provided now.

There was almost no discussion about environmental risks posed by people dumping hazardous waste or used oil on the ground over the Spokane aquifer to avoid potential new charges at the Valley transfer station for what has been a free service for 23 years. There was also no discussion of how higher fees for self-hauling might result in more illegal dumping or accumulation of residential garbage.

Jim Wavada, environmental planner for the state Department of Ecology, said writing individual solid waste plans could cost $200,000 and take months to complete.

“My encouragement to all of the jurisdictions is to make your decision this month,” he said.

Several of the small city leaders objected to a portion of the county’s deal with Spokane that sets a value on the Valley and North Side transfer stations, which are being transferred to county control as part of the new regional system.

Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn said, “We are interested in what is best for the citizens of Spokane Valley.”

Commissioners stressed that maintaining a regional system has advantages in terms of negotiating power and economies of scale that may not be found by breaking away.

Currently, Seattle is the only city in the state not participating in a countywide solid waste plan.

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