Decisions on fee waivers for private companies wanting to offload demolition and other waste at the Douglas County Landfill may soon be made at a public meeting by the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, rather than be decided administratively by the county’s public works director.
After a five-month hiatus, the Douglas County Solid Waste Advisory Committee met again Monday for the first time since Feb. 13.
The long time lag followed February’s 4-3 vote in favor of a motion by SWAC committee member Dick Heard that all large fee waivers for dumping at the landfill should be brought before the committee before approval. That vote followed in the wake of controversy over the county allowing the Hanna family to deposit at least $50,000 worth of material in the landfill for free after they demolished the Windmill Inn.
In March, the county issued a new rule that revoked the solid waste director’s authority to approve or deny fee waivers, including those for community cleanups. A fee waiver for demolition waste from the old Safeway and Rite-Aid buildings was grandfathered in, having previously been approved by the public works director, and municipalities were later authorized to have annual landfill waivers of up to $750 for community cleanups. Since then, Myrtle Creek and Reedsport have received waivers for such cleanups.
On Monday, SWAC members agreed they’d like to allow administrative approval of fee waivers for community cleanup efforts, but have fee waivers for commercial cleanups for for-profit businesses go through SWAC.
They asked county staff to come back to the next meeting in August with a draft of proposed fee waiver rules.
Heard said no one will oppose community cleanups, but a public meeting should be held before commercial waivers are approved.
“When we’re talking about private entities, I think that there always should be two things. I think it should be brought before the SWAC board and I think the public needs to be able to have a public comment period at that meeting so that they can express their concerns. Otherwise, we don’t get to the bottom of what our possible problems are going to be out there,” Heard said.
The question of fee waivers is a relatively new one, since prior to 2015, there were no fees for anyone to dump at the landfill.
Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice told SWAC members that meant the program for fee waivers had to be developed on the fly, and the county decided to give the public works director the authority to make decisions on fee waivers. It’s a process he said they felt would avoid any appearance of favoritism or politics entering into the decision.
“Our hope is that we can have a program moving forward that’s fairly all-encompassing to take the guesswork out of the process and to make it equitable for everybody,” Boice said.
SWAC members also heard from Ross Wilson of Wilson Consulting that the landfill operation is about $1 million in the hole for Fiscal Year 2019, and that increased costs to operate the landfill, including the need for a $3.3 million leachate line and treatment plant, could necessitate significant increases in disposal fees at the landfill and transfer stations.
And the committee continued an ongoing discussion about whether it makes sense to keep open all 11 of the county’s transfer stations, including those in smaller communities like Tiller that are expensive to operate compared with the amount of trash that’s brought there. Options on the table include consolidating to eight, or four transfer stations. No decisions were made about the transfer stations Monday.
The committee also voted unanimously to increase its meetings to once a month.