Powell began taking half of its trash to Cowley in September (with the other half going to Cody), and the Powell City Council voted to take all the trash to Cowley in January. City staff said going to Cowley will save $63,000 a year compared to Cody.
Powell chose Cowley after Big Horn County offered to give the city a $78-a-ton rate versus Park County’s $90-per-ton rate. Big Horn County had been charging its residents $90 a ton, but was able to lower its rates to $78 with the addition of Powell’s trash.
Park County commissioners, however, say the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is wrong to let Cowley’s unlined landfill become a regional one. For its part, the department has said Cowley’s geology means the site does not need to be lined to protect groundwater.
Since Park County has objected, the next step will be a hearing before the Environmental Quality Council, said DEQ spokesman Keith Guille.
A hearing date before the citizen appeals board has been set for May 10.
Park County commissioners said in their objection letter that allowing the unlined landfill in Cowley to take Powell trash and become a regional facility is contrary to DEQ and federal Environmental Protection Agency policy.
“A minimum doubling of [municipal solid waste] tonnage (and potentially much more as a regional facility) presents a highly elevated potential for increased impacts to already contaminated groundwater,” the county wrote. The letter says an independent study of impacts is needed.
Park County commissioners say it’s an uneven playing field, since they were required to line all landfill sites in the county. (The commission found consolidating to one lined site in Cody was the most cost-effective option versus lining all the sites in Powell, Meeteetse, Clark and Cody).
In an interview with the Tribune last October, DEQ Solid Waste Program Manager Bob Doctor said he thought everyone would agree that “a lined landfill is the best way to go.” But Doctor added that some landfills in certain locations don’t alter groundwater quality.
“We know that 96 percent of the landfills in the state that we have collected data on in the state have evidence of groundwater contamination. The Cowley landfill at this point is not one of them,” he said.
Commissioners voted on March 19 to hire an outside attorney to potentially argue their case before the Environmental Quality Council.
Deputy Park County Attorney Jim Davis typically represents the county in civil disputes. However, he said the county isn’t familiar with the relationship between the environmental council and the DEQ. Hiring Mark Stewart of Davis and Cannon LLP in Cheyenne adds “one level of additional expertise,” Davis said.
“There’s a lot of dollars involved in this issue,” added Park County Commission Chairman Loren Grosskopf.
Losing Powell’s roughly 5,000 tons of household trash represents roughly $450,000 in lost revenue for Park County.
The city of Powell was forced to begin hauling its garbage to Cody, Cowley or elsewhere after the Powell landfill closed to household trash in September. The Powell landfill remains open to other kinds of trash, such as dry construction and demolition materials, but not what the city generally collects.
Park County commissioners declined to give the city of Powell any kind of rate break.
Commissioners argued that when Park County’s free or discounted rates on some wastes were figured in, their $90 per ton rate was basically the same as Big Horn County’s $78 per ton. City of Powell Public Services Manager Gary Butts, however, figured Big Horn County’s bid would come out about $63,000 cheaper.
During a March 12 commission work session, Grosskopf said the county could lower the tipping fee to $75 next year if Powell returns and the county stops all freebies. The decrease would come from shifting costs, not from saving any money or changing operations.
“That’s really all it is. It’s a play on numbers,” said Brian Edwards, an engineer from Holm, Blough and Co. who consults for the county on landfill issues.
The shift would end up being a slightly better deal for Powell, Cody and Meeteetse residents, along with customers of private haulers, while impacting rural customers who haul their own garbage, according to comments at the meeting. Commissioners will continue to discuss their rate structure.
Editor's note: This version corrects a typo that said Big Horn County was charging $78,000 a ton, rather than the actual rate of $78 a ton.