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Legislators seem amenable to enacting waste control

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — June 15, 2010 — Legislators on Thursday gave the green light for the Solid Waste Review Committee to prepare a solid waste user fee model that incorporates flow control.
Attorney Teno West, who was hired by the county to advise on this matter, told County Manager David Fanslau on May 27 that several recent court decisions – including one by the U.S. Supreme Court – affirmed the county’s ability to enforce an 18-year-old law requiring waste generated in the county be disposed at county facilities.
The committee tasked with altering the current and controversial user fee system has been leaning toward flow control, but it’s cancelled several meetings to allow the Legislature time to give some direction.
On Thursday, the legislators of the Public Works Committee said they support the concept.
“I believe a solid waste facility is part of our infrastructure,” remarked Legislator David Sager.
He considers it county residents’ responsibility to pay for that infrastructure just as they do roads, and that includes the $36 million in remaining debt on the now-closed landfill.
“It was created by the entire county, and it has to be dealt with by the entire county,” he explained.
Legislator Jodi Goodman agreed, likening the matter to paying school taxes whether or not one has children in those schools.
“I believe it is something we have to do,” added Legislator Elwin Wood, who chairs the committee reviewing waste fee options.
“I think we’ve got to go out and do some explanation on what flow control really means,” urged Legislature Chairman Jonathan Rouis. “... This isn’t us trying to put something in place to charge everyone more. ... And if we get full participation, the costs may come down.”
Legislator Alan Sorensen felt more study was needed, especially to see how well (or not) the just-enacted user fee has worked out.
“I would just like to understand the existing system before we jump into another system,” he remarked – though he added he does not oppose flow control.
He also pushed for “single-stream” collection, whereby recyclables do not need to be separated by residents and businesses, instead being sorted at the transfer station.
Fanslau said requests for proposals on such a system are now being issued, and a comprehensive solid waste management plan is under development by county staff.
The county manager added that flow control will still come with tipping fees (and likely user fees), though those fees must remain competitive.
He also pointed out that the dedicated Solid Waste Fund cannot be used to balance the budget (a problem in years past with landfill revenues), but if flow control is enacted, the county does not plan to hire “trash cops” to ensure enforcement.
“If it [fees] are competitive, the enforcement side of it should be really minimal,” Sorensen agreed.
Sager said flow control will ensure a consistent amount of tonnage that will in turn keep the county’s solid waste system in the black.
“It’s a means of being able to manage your destiny,” he remarked.
One of his constituents, however, would rather legislators focus on their own destinies.
“They’re going to have one hell of a time to enforce it,” predicted Jim Hughson, owner of Jeff Sanitation. “... I really feel it’s illegal.”
Hughson is planning to build a private transfer station at his Jeffersonville headquarters, which would collect trash (initially only from his company, possibly opening to the public in the future) and ship it out to Pennsylvania. He’s in the process of obtaining permits from the state and the Town of Delaware Planning Board, which has held open a public hearing from this past week to its next meeting on July 14.
The county’s Planning Division has already weighed in on that application via the standard “239” review, referencing a requirement of Section 239 of the county’s General Municipal Law.
In a June 7 letter to the planning board, Planning Commissioner Luiz Aragon stated that the project “will have adverse inter-community impacts.”
“An industrial use of this size so close to a waterway with fishing access and Stone Arch Park, a county historic and recreational asset, as well as its location on a travelled tourist route and people’s homes and commercial activity makes this site an inappropriate location,” wrote Aragon.
“An industrial use should be on a site where visual buffering can be achieved and associated activity will not conflict with the surrounding land uses,” he continued. “Given the specific nature of the proposed use, as a waste transfer station for residential and business waste, there will be adverse impacts upon the surrounding community related to odors, noise and traffic.”
Planning Board Chairman Jerry Euker, however, said Aragon may not be familiar with the Route 52 property’s historic use – as a landfill, now closed and covered.
“It’s a pre-existing non-conforming use,” he explained.
The board has yet to make a decision on Hughson’s special use permit application, but Euker noted that no public comments were offered at last week’s public hearing.
However, if the planning board does decide to issue the permit, it must do so by supermajority vote (the majority, plus one) to overrule the county’s stance.
And if legislators enact flow control – forcing Hughson to ship his trash to county facilities – they can expect a lawsuit.
“Oh hell yeah,” said Hughson. “And they’re all going to get dumped [out of office].”
The Solid Waste Review Committee will next meet to discuss the matter today at 9 a.m. at the Government Center in Monticello. All meetings are open to the public, and a formal recommendation is expected by July or August.
See Friday’s Democrat for a report of that meeting.

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