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November 04, 2008 3:01 am

Powell landfill options are slim

Written by Tribune Staff

Trucking trash to Cody seen as only choice

The message from recent landfill planning is that unless Park County wants to truck its waste to Casper, there are few viable options on the table — and it's going to be expensive.

“It's essentially one alternative,” said consultant Myra Peak at a Thursday landfill meeting.

That choice is to bring all of the county's garbage to a lined landfill in Cody. However, building a lined cell in Cody would mean a significant increase in costs.

Currently, the landfills of Park County charge $60 for every ton of waste dumped. Based on numbers run by Richard Thiel, a solid waste engineer, that cost could double, and will almost certainly rise.

“Nothing we do is going to beat $80 a ton,” said county landfill Manager Dave Hoffert. “At absolute worst — if we do everything wrong — it's going to be $120.”

If those numbers hold true, it would likely mean a $3 to $8 increase for Powell residents' monthly garbage bills. That would not include the increased cost of transporting the trash to Cody.

The changes are the result of Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality policy that essentially mandates that all landfills in the state be lined. The goal is to stop any contaminated liquids (leachate) from leaking into surrounding soil and groundwater.

In the past, it was believed that the state's climate was too dry for leachate.

“Then some fool lined a landfill and it filled up with leachate. And we can't say that anymore,” Hoffert said.

The DEQ is providing funds for landfills to work together and plan their long-term futures. Park County, with five waste sites, Powell, Cody, Meeteetse, Clark and Crandall, qualified as a work group.

Commissioner Jill Shockley Siggins said that if the state wants landfills lined they should be prepared to help pay for it.

The state has an emergency landfill fund set aside for natural catastrophes, such as an earthquake. Siggins said the price hike for residents should qualify as such a crisis.

“Isn't this pretty catastrophic?” she asked. “That's a lot of money to be going to the citizens and saying, ‘pay up.'”

Part of the cost of building the lined site in Cody is the expense of getting the money for construction. The state provides loans with low 2-percent interest for landfill projects, but Siggins said the state's surpluses are such that it should be providing money, not loaning it.

“There's no reason to be borrowing money when we (as a state) have it,” she said.

Lining the Powell landfill would be a much more expensive endeavor than Cody's.

The Powell site is now permitted by the DEQ to run through August of 2010. To stay fully open past that date, the DEQ has indicated that the facility must get a liner — basically, a one-eighth inch thick plastic tarp.

However, the liner requirement only applies to municipal solid waste — the “wet garbage” that comes from residences, restaurants, and businesses. The landfill receives about 6,200 tons of municipal solid waste each year.

The Powell site would likely still accept construction and demolition materials, even after “closure.” Construction and other dry waste, made up of things like sheet rock and furniture, accounts for roughly 4,000 tons a year of Powell's annual 10,200 ton total. Additionally, things like grass clippings, petroleum-contaminated soil, and animal carcasses, could also still be accepted.

Thiel said it is possible to install a liner in Powell.

“The punch-line is, it's a very expensive landfill to develop,” he said. In particular, the rockier geology makes it a tough site to dig and further develop.

Hoffert said it wouldn't make sense to have Powell operate on its own with a liner.

“Powell has a lot lower volume. As you decrease your volume, you lose your economy of scale,” he said.

The economy of scale plays a big role in the cost. Hoffert said each 1,000 tons you add cuts roughly $5.50 from the per-ton cost.

Thiel's numbers say lining Powell just for itself would require charging $202 a ton over the next 25 years at the landfill gate — more than triple the current rate.

Assuming all other factors remain constant, that would translate to a $20 a month increase on Powell residential garbage bills. The current rate — which includes recycling and collection charges — is around $22.60.

Peak said the landfills in Billings and Worland have both said that they will not take Park County's waste. That leaves the only other real option as trucking the waste all the way to Casper. Thiel said that option would not require any upfront borrowing, but would make the county dependent on gas prices and Casper's fees. Additionally, the numbers say that would be a higher per ton cost.

If Powell's waste is to be trucked to Cody, Powell sanitation superintendent Darrell Rood said it may be necessary to construct a transfer station. It would temporarily house and collect trash. Rood sees problems with the city directly trucking its collections to Cody.

“I can see where we're going to have a lot of partial loads,” he said. “I don't think that would ever fly.”

Rood said he currently deals with partial loads, but with the Powell landfill only five or so miles away, “Now it's not a big deal.”