Campbell County may offer relief for city landfill crisis

“The door’s cracked open,” says DEQ

 

By Sarah Pridgeon

At a meeting between the city council and Department of Environmental Quality last week, it was revealed that Campbell County may be willing to accept municipal garbage from surrounding communities after all. This would reduce the potential costs of hauling trash once Sundance’s own landfill is closed.

“Campbell County is up to the idea of accepting waste from the surrounding counties [according to] the internal people working on their lifetime permit,” said Dena Egenhoff, DEQ.

“Beyond that with the county commissioners, who knows, but they’re at least putting out an intent to expand their services. The door’s cracked open.”

Mayor Paul Brooks expressed surprise that Campbell County is now willing to consider taking garbage, telling DEQ representatives that their county commissioners had told him differently.

“That would be absolutely terrific, it does take a load off – but we weren’t there two months ago,” he said.

The current situation, according to Brooks, is that the city has run preliminary figures on the costs of transferring garbage. This has revealed that the city’s rates for residents may need to increase significantly, should garbage need to be hauled to a far-flung location such as Casper.

A bill under consideration at the Legislature could provide a stay of execution by allowing the city to transport to Moorcroft’s unlined landfill for a little longer but, without Campbell County’s aid, the only long-term option could be Casper.

“We’re going down the road here in Sundance of closing our landfill and getting our transfer station,” he said. “[We’ve] grown very concerned as time has gone on about the direction we’re heading…We don’t want to be out of compliance but we’re at a point where we don’t know what to do.”

Bob Doctor of DEQ told the council that Campbell County’s commissioners, landfill operators and engineers all appear to think it would be a good idea to accept garbage from other communities. This may be associated with the potential revenue for the county.

“I met with them a couple of weeks ago and they seemed fairly open to the idea. We had a discussion about their permitting obligations and how that would fall into place,” he explained.

“We’ve got a draft rule change now that would make it much easier for them to permit that and it would be a minor change, easy to do, so they can expand their service area and take in garbage more readily. I talked to them a little bit about how the volume doesn’t require a big change in how they do business every day but, if you add up the waste in this region, you may be talking $400,000 to $500,000 a year in revenue.”

The contribution that taking extra garbage would make to operating and remediation costs may also be a factor in Campbell County’s decision.

“I think you’re seeing a door starting to open a little bit. What’s going to be key to that is for them to land on a tipping fee price,” said Craig McOmie, DEQ.

“I think they’re a little more amenable to reaching out to help simply because they might need something from the state down the road themselves.”

DEQ is not, however, able to force Campbell County to accept garbage from Sundance.

“The question of where your garbage can go is unfortunately one that we don’t have very much say in because people have to identify an area they’ll take trash from and we can’t require people to take trash from a specific area,” said Anderson.

“We can talk to people…but we don’t have any ability to force that issue.”

According to McOmie, a preliminary decision on whether Campbell County will expand its service territory could be made by May.

DEQ sheds light on landfill issue

Closing the state’s leaking landfills is a project that’s causing timing issues for DEQ and funding headaches for municipalities like Sundance. Changes from last year’s Legislative session rendered the original schedule unworkable, according to DEQ representatives, but have also provided better funding options.

At a meeting between DEQ and the city council last week, the two entities showed willing to work with one another to meet deadlines, despite the changes and financial burdens. DEQ praised Sundance for its progress so far in, for example, mandating recycling when this was “unheard of” in Wyoming.

“We’re trying to balance the hard line of the law with the reality on the ground,” said Bob Doctor of DEQ.

Dale Anderson of DEQ explained that the city’s original Administrative Order on Consent was issued before the 2013 Legislative session. During that session, a program was put in place to help with funding and changes were made to the permitting process.

“It put us in a position where, if we followed through with the Administrative Order as it was originally set up, you wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the changes,” said Anderson.

“This Joint Stipulation is trying to make a couple of changes to the original Administrative Order so that, if you want to, you can take advantage of the permitting changes. It would also stretch things out just a bit so there’s money available to help close the landfill now under that same program.”

The city is now eligible for a grant that will cover up to 75 percent of the cost of closing the landfill. It is still required to cease hauling garbage to the landfill on the original closure date of September 2014.

“Your transfer station looks like it’s largely constructed. As far as I know, right now you would be able to haul your municipal garbage to whatever location you choose effective September this year,” said Anderson.

According to Mayor Paul Brooks, however, shortcomings have been found in the city’s ability to haul garbage. The city was one of the first to implement mandatory recycling, he said, but there are still issues to deal with.

Among these issues is the need to install a camera on the garbage truck to identify who is dumping yard waste, which is relatively heavy. New multi-purpose recycling containers are needed to allow items such as glass and plastic to be separated out and the city must get buy-in from those residents who are still not on board with recycling.

“We’re trying, but we don’t have all the processes in place and September is a fairly short time frame,” Brooks said.

The mayor also pointed out that the uncertainty has made it difficult for the city to plan. Not knowing where the garbage will be hauled to, for example, has made it tough to know such things as whether the size of the trailers purchased for the transfer station is appropriate.

“This is a real frustration for me,” he said.

“This was a great landfill, now it’s not acceptable, we plan on going with little trailers and then there’s a change to the rules and we have to haul to Casper. Some of this stuff is very hard to budget for.”

DEQ is under its own pressures to make timelines fit with the changes, said Bob Doctor.

“Operators are supposed to submit a closure permit application 12 months before the landfill stops receiving waste, so we’ve already missed that,” he said.

“The normal requirement is then within 30 days that you stop burying garbage, you need to start your closure activities and be completed within 180 days.”

Because circumstances have changed, however, DEQ has tried to tie these dates to when the General Permit becomes available, building in extra time to allow municipalities to take advantage of it. Consequently, the city must now begin its closure activities within a limited timeframe after receiving the permit.

The General Permit, said Anderson, is a template design for a landfill cover that will allow municipalities to simply add their specific details, rather than design the whole thing from scratch. The city is not obliged to use it but, to give municipalities the option, the timeline has been changed accordingly.

Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Lenz questioned whether “a window would close” for the city if it continued to stall as much as possible and did not apply for funding this year.

“We say that these things are in the pipeline. If you’re making progress on it, there’s no window I see closing,” said Craig McOmie, DEQ, adding that the State Lands and Investments Board has agreed to hear applications for funding as often as every two months.

“If you weren’t doing anything, it would be a problem and we would be looking more at enforcement actions.”

DEQ will also be given some latitude for working with the funding priority list, said Anderson. Though DEQ was initially meant to follow this list verbatim, with Sundance currently standing in position 21, the order may change if a municipality on the list does not apply.

“We’ve had conversations with the Attorney General’s Office and our current administrator…and I brought this very issue to their attention,” said Doctor.

“We have a rule that we’re required to enforce that requires people to submit these closure permits and get this done. There’s some ability to stretch this out…but how do I enforce this rule when communities don’t have the money and may not get it even if they apply?”

There’s no easy answer to this question, he continued, but the Legislature will hopefully be having the discussion. DEQ will meanwhile do all it can do to give the city time to make and implement decisions.

The remaining 25 percent of the funding, said McOmie, is “the nut we’re trying to crack.” The city cannot afford to pay a 25 percent loan of $600,000 or more back, said the mayor, without sacrificing its campaign to improve quality of life and attract young people to Sundance through such projects as the pool and walking path.

“If you can work with us and give us time, that would be better,” he said.

DEQ representatives agreed that working together will be preferable and encouraged the city to continue with its best efforts to close and cap the landfill. DEQ would like to continue with the good relationship it has had with the city for years, said Dena Egenhoff.

“It’s important that you keep showing what you have done and the steps you have taken so we can say that you’ve done what you can but just can’t meet that 25 percent,” said McOmie.

Addressing the overall problem should also involve working as a community, said the DEQ representatives, commenting that the county needs to “step up to the plate.” The real answer, they suggested, is for everyone to work together to put on a unified front for a systematic problem.

McOmie suggested that a countywide garbage district would open many solutions, for example, such as the ability to have one garbage truck going to all communities to pick up the garbage.

Going forward, said Doctor, there are still plenty of unknowns and the best path would be to continue hammering out a schedule. Meanwhile, DEQ will continue to gather information and seek understanding of what options are available to provide extra time.

Sundance will not be pursuing the 75 percent grant for the March 7 deadline, said Lenz, as it was unable to demonstrate ability to pay the remaining 25 percent and this would have severely indebted the city.