Going it alone

Sundance and Moorcroft explore garbage partnership without the rest of the county

By Sarah Pridgeon

Unable to convince the rest of the county that a solution is needed for the looming garbage crisis, Sundance and Moorcroft have opted to go it alone. The two cities are hoping to keep the last remaining landfill in the county open by combining resources to fund a new, lined pit.

It’s not about what happens in 2019, said Councilman Dick Claar, Moorcroft; it’s about costs and difficulties the county could still be facing in 2040 if no action is taken now. The hope, he said, is that the rest of the county may come on board once the ball begins to roll – but if not, so be it.

“In the long run, we want our own landfill in our own county that we can control,” he said. “If we lose it, we’re never going to get it back.”

Councilman Joe Wilson, Sundance, stated that he recognizes the issue is contentious but wants it to be tackled once and for all so that his child is not still dealing with it in the decades to come. If the two towns can secure a landfill, he said, he has no problem if that means he is voted out at the next election.

Claar agreed that he doesn’t want to kick the question down the road for the sake of the elections and would rather do what he thinks will be best for citizens over the next 50 years. Several other elected officials nodded in agreement.

Mayor Paul Brooks, Sundance added his concern that Waste Connections is buying out private waste management companies across the northeast of Wyoming. Unless a solution is found, he said, Crook County could be facing a “monopoly situation”.

Councilman Owen Mathews noted that Moorcroft has done its best to keep things steady for the county while the problem was being addressed, keeping the doors of its landfill to all. If the town had not done that, its residents would probably have five years left before they faced the cost increase of hauling – Moorcroft has already shown willing to make sacrifices if it helps to find a long term solution, he said.

 

 

The details

Heath Turbiville of HDR Engineering recently performed a study into the possible options for garbage on behalf of the now largely defunct Crook County Solid Waste Joint Powers Board. He presented new estimates based on the idea of Moorcroft and Sundance working alone.

“We’ve hashed and rehashed what we put together previously on the report,” Turbiville said.

The new figures don’t differ wildly from the original report, he continued, although they are based on the 1000 tons per year that the two cities would likely bring to the landfill. An early estimate, he said, would be that Moorcroft could save around $17 per ton when compared to the cost of hauling to Gillette; at a greater distance from Campbell County, he said, Sundance would likely save more.

The cost per ton for maintenance does increase at that lower amount, Turbiville continued, so the key would be to encourage the rest of the county and beyond to haul to Moorcroft.

Moorcroft has land available for a lined pit, Claar confirmed – enough to last for a very long time. Turbiville presented an estimate that the capital cost for a five-acre cell would be $4.8 million and would last the two cities up to 100 years; a two-acre cell with a 40-year life would cost around $2.8 million.

Funding for some of that cost could be available through Wyoming Rural Development and a Mineral Royalties Grant, he added.

“If there’s a way that we can get our cost for opening this and operating it comparable to where it’s at [now, I think that’s a good decision for us,” commented Mathews, pointing out that it will cost Moorcroft residents $80,000 more out of the gate when the town has to start hauling – and that’s without the cost of a transfer station and other infrastructure.

“We can be in control of our own future,” he added.

Wilson questioned how long the current cell at the Moorcroft landfill could operate if Sundance continues to bring waste to it while the two towns figure out this project. Turbiville estimated one year and said Moorcroft is still waiting for confirmation on its request for a vertical expansion, which would extend that timeframe.

Discussion broached some of the finer details of the partnership, such as the governmental entity that would be needed for the project and whether to invite Weston County to the table. Nearing the end of the allotted time for the work session, it was agreed that the issue requires more detailed talks.

Representatives from Weston County as well as the county’s legislators will be invited to that exploratory workshop, tentatively scheduled for March 26.

 

Lack of interest

Why are Hulett, Pine Haven and the County Commissioners less interested in a regional garbage solution? This question was revisited several times, with the general consensus being that the other entities in the county have yet to feel the full effects of the garbage problem.

“In my opinion, Sundance and Moorcroft are the only ones up against that wall,” said Mathews.

Both Hulett and Pine Haven – as well as some county residents – rely on private hauling companies, for example. The cost for these services has not changed much, but that may not be the case for very long.

“I’ve seen this game before,” said Councilman Paul Smoot, Moorcroft, who spent a number of years working for haulage companies in another state. Private entities attempt to get regional control of garbage to lower their own costs, but, “at the same time, our costs go astronomical”; many times, he said, he saw costs double or triple in a couple of years.

It was meanwhile suggested that the commissioners have never had to be responsible for garbage and feel it is not a county issue. Mathews, however, noted that 51 percent of the population lives outside the municipalities.

Commissioners Kelly Dennis and Steve Stahla both attended the discussion to listen. Stahla commented he was taking notes and had heard a lot of ideas; it’s finding the right idea and making it work, he said.

“No doubt something needs to happen and it needs to happen sooner than later,” he said. Neither commissioner, however, indicated that the county had changed its stance on the issue.

County residents may also feel immune as many have ranch landfills; however, Mathews said, the Department of Environmental Quality may well turn their attention to these smaller pits once the municipal landfills are closed because ranch landfills could also pose a risk to the groundwater. It won’t be hard for the DEQ to find them, Brooks added – many can be seen on Google Earth.

Whatever the reason for the reluctance, Brooks said it could be a mistake to push it off down the road.

“I’ve got a bad feeling that their day of reckoning might be coming,” he said.

County Clerk Linda Fritz questioned what will happen if the project is successful, Moorcroft and Sundance residents are taxed to fund it and, later down the road, another entity wants on board but has not paid as much on the loan. Brooks agreed that this question will require thought, to be sure the answer is fair to everyone involved, but said he has a personal preference that the other entities get involved early on.

“If I’m carrying the ball for you, I’d hope that you’d be with me all along,” he said.

Mathews mentioned that, since the problem first came up, he has heard county residents say they don’t want to pay for the municipalities’ problems. However, he continued, not only have the towns taken on garbage for years and done so on behalf of those county residents, they have also invested in such things as firefighting for the good of all.

We are county residents too, Mathews said. “In the end, I just hope we can work together.”