On the one hand, commissioners last week agreed to start up a small committee of trash haulers from Powell, Cody, Meeteetse and the private sector to examine ways to make Park County’s tipping fees more equitable and, perhaps, cheaper.
On the other hand, commissioners have signaled they plan to firmly oppose any effort to go along with Big Horn County’s effort to turn its unlined Cowley site into a regional landfill and take Powell’s trash.
Park County found it had to line a new landfill cell in Cody and shut down unlined cells in Powell, Clark and Meeteetse to cost-effectively meet DEQ groundwater protection regulations, while the department has said the Cowley landfill’s geology doesn’t require a liner. Commissioners say that gives Big Horn County an unfair advantage.
How to keep all local landfill users happy was the topic of discussion at a meeting last week between a roomful of representatives from Park County, Powell, Cody, Meeteetse and the private haulers. The discussion was a mix of marked disagreement and calls for Park County residents to stick together, and it focused primarily on the Park County-Powell dynamic.
City of Powell officials say they feel the county left them on their own to deal with the closure of the Powell landfill. County commissioners declined to be a part of the city’s plans for the transfer station, citing data that it wouldn’t pay for itself. The county also rejected the city’s preferred location for the station near the Crown Hill Cemetery district after many nearby landowners objected.
Despite saying for years they’re willing to offer Powell a break on their garbage rates to partially offset the city’s cost of hauling to Cody, commissioners have never made an offer. On the flip side, Powell officials never made a formal request to the county for such a break.
Now, with Powell poised to take its trash elsewhere, it’s commissioners who feel the city is ditching them. Commissioner Joe Tilden said everyone needs to decide “we’re all in this together” and suggested Powell would be “sell(ing) Park County down the street” if the city goes somewhere else.
“We’re not selling anybody down the street,” shot back Powell Mayor-elect Don Hillman. “We’re all in this together. That’s how we started out, selling each other down the street six years ago.”
Commissioners have made the argument that Powell’s departure would have the city skipping out on the costs of closing down the landfill it used for years. The county expects a roughly $8 million bill to close parts of the Powell, Cody, Clark and Meeteetse landfills, though federal dollars are helping.
“Arguably, the county has undercharged all the residents of all the municipalities all of the last 20, 30, 40 years because nobody ever accumulated the money to do the reclamation,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.
Besides the reclamation, there’s also the $4.3 million spent to line the new landfill cell in Cody, which has not yet been used.
“We, as Park County residents, we’re going to have to pay that, one way or the other,” Grosskopf said.
Commissioners noted that if Powell’s trash goes outside Park County, rates in the rest of the county likely will rise by about $8 a ton from the current $90 a ton.
Powell City Administrator Zane Logan asked why the impact of Powell’s departure is only now being discussed by the county.
“We need to see how we can work on this together, because it’s going to cost everybody more money,” Logan said. “We want to be part of Park County, but you need to make us part of the players, not just take it or leave it.”
Commissioner Bucky Hall said at the outset of the meeting that his goal “is to make the use of the Park County landfill (in Cody) palatable to everybody in the surrounding area, and try to reach whatever compromise we need to make that happen.”
Tilden and Grosskopf, however, each indicated the county is unable to give much of a break. Grosskopf noted that if the county matches Cowley’s offer and gives Powell a lower rate, that money has to be made up somewhere.
“Then ... the same question will come up: Cody may decide to move,” Grosskopf said, adding, “In theory, we could lose all our business tomorrow, and that’s why we’re here.”
Cody Public Works Director Steve Payne backed that up.
“I can assure you that if gets to be $114 a ton” — a rate discussed as a possibility years ago — “as a staff representative, I’m going to be telling the council, ‘We’re all done. We’ll build our own transfer station,’” Payne said.
For the city of Powell and its residents, going to Cowley potentially could save money. Beyond the relatively marginal savings in a shorter travel distance to Cowley than to Cody, Big Horn County managers have said they may be able to offer a rate of $80 a ton. That would save Powell roughly $50,000 a year from Park County’s $90 a ton rate.
Hillman said all Powell leaders want from the commission is a price to consider.
“We don’t want to argue about what we shoulda coulda woulda done,” he said.
Everyone, however, agreed to participate in the newly-formed “core committee” to try finding a solution everyone likes.
The core committee
Grosskopf said the county can do little without knowing what offer Cowley will make and what Park County is up against.
Powell Mayor Scott Mangold said the city expects to get a bid from Big Horn County before the end of the year.
“There’s plenty of time to get together and discuss things here in the next couple months, but something has to be done,” Mangold said, telling commissioners to come up with a pitch.
Commissioner Dave Burke said he personally was confident the county could sit down with Powell and come up with a rate that will keep the city’s trash in Park County, saying that Park County needs the city’s trash.
However, it was noted the issue is broader than just the county and Powell.
“Why would you leave out Cody and Meeteetse and private haulers?” asked Grosskopf.
“Once you open up that discussion, then it has to open up for everybody else,” agreed Otto Goldbach, owner of Two Tough Guys Services.
Payne predicted that, in drawing lines across the county to work out subsidies, “it’s going to be very difficult to tie down our numbers.”
The 12-member “core committee” is being made up of an elected official and staff member from Park County, Cody, Powell, Cody and Meeteetse and representatives from Two Tough Guys Services and Keele Sanitation.
There were several ideas about what the committee could discuss for shuffling or decreasing garbage rates.
Burke said that, after years of missed opportunities, “there are some new doors that could be opened. But what it’s going to take is some people that think outside the box.”
He suggested taking a page from Big Horn County’s playbook and increasing Park County’s service area — and revenue — to take more construction and demolition waste from surrounding counties.
Powell City Councilman Myron Heny said it’s possible that Park County actually could end up luring Big Horn County to bring its trash to the Park County Landfill.
Several leaders from Powell and Cody, meanwhile, said they they want to consider asking voters to approve a new property tax to lower landfill rates. However, some skepticism was expressed about whether voters — who just shot down a sales tax — are interested.
Goldbach, the owner of Two Tough Guys, suggested the city of Powell consider privatizing its trash service.
“Your prices are about what we’re running, and we’re running 200 miles and you guys are running 20 down to here (Cody),” Goldbach said. “But ... you’ve got stop after stop after stop. Looks pretty profitable.”
Heny said when he was Powell’s sanitation superintendent, the city repeatedly looked at privatizing.
However, he said the enterprise fund is a revenue source for the city, paying for billing and helping pay for the city administrator, city councilmen and other expenses. Private bids typically wouldn’t include large-item pickup, either.
Beyond the bid, “It’s how your sanitation department is intertwined with your city,” Heny said.
Goldbach said things like big-item pickups or clean-up days could be written into a contract with a private company.
The case against Cowley
While participating in the collaborative committee, the county is also trying to block Big Horn County from taking Powell’s trash at the unlined landfill in Cowley.
Brian Edwards, a county-retained landfill consultant with Holm, Blough and Co., said it makes sense not to require liners from small, rural, arid landfills in good geologic sites. However, he said it doesn’t make common sense for the state to allow large, unlined sites while, at the same time, it prepares to spend millions of dollars cleaning up the many unlined landfills that have contaminated groundwater.
“What’s to stop everybody — Cody, Keele Sanitation — from going to a less expensive, unlined landfill?” Edwards asked. He said it’s never been the intent of regulators to have large, unlined regional landfills.
“That’s what we’ve got in Wyoming if we don’t fix that uneven playing field,” Edwards said.
Park County Landfill Manager Tim Waddell told commissioners Tuesday he expects the DEQ ultimately will approve Big Horn County’s request and that Park County will have to appeal the decision to the Environmental Quality Council.
“That’s where it’s going to have to go to get any results, and that’s our ultimate goal, I would say,” Waddell said.