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Candidates differ on options for old trash
All county candidates support using tax money to close landfill but differ on cleanup tactics.
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: July 18, 2012
All of the candidates running for the Teton County Board of Commissioners say tax dollars should be put toward the closure of the old landfill in Horsethief Canyon, but they differ on how exactly that money should be used.
Democrat Melissa Turley and Republican Barbara Allen said they support an approach that combines some trash removal and installation of a protective cap, while Democrat Claire Fuller said she backs a proposal to insert a protective cap across the entire property.
Incumbent Commissioner Paul Perry said he still is reviewing the options, recommended to elected officials by a national consulting firm, to see which one would satisfy state requirements and best address environmental concerns.
The decision about how to close the landfill is scheduled to be made before the November election, but candidates may still have significant influence on the project. All candidates were sent a short questionnaire about the topic.
“Retrofitting the site requires that we excavate to create the needed space for the new buildings,” Allen said. “From what I have learned, it appears that a combination of excavating along with capping is the best solution financially and can be a positive environmental solution although it isn’t perfect.”
Turley took a similar approach, saying that without guarantees about what kinds of operations could take place on top of a protective cap, county officials should consider digging out some of it.
“I understand there is some concern regarding what, if any, future operations could take place on top of such a cap,” Turley said. “And because [Integrated Solid Waste and Recycling] is already operating in a limited amount of space, I think we should investigate a fourth option that would entail partial excavation to create space for an enclosed food-composting facility.”
Fuller said she supports capping the old landfill. The estimated cost of excavating the site seems prohibitive and could prevent commissioners from expanding and improving the services they provide at the site, she said.
“While completely excavating and cleaning up the site might seem ideal, we need to make fiscally prudent decisions that leave us with some flexibility,” Fuller said. “With capping costing approximately $10 million and complete cleanup costing approximately $50 million, we are effectively saving $40 million, which leaves us plenty of room for developing new uses or improving and expanding on existing uses.”
Perry did not stake out a position on whether county officials should excavate the site, cap it or move forward with a combination of the two. County officials have to protect groundwater at the site, meet state requirements to close it and address any other environmental concerns, he said.
The project likely will be broken into two phases if elected officials choose to put it on the ballot. The first phase would pay for cleaning up and closing the site. The other would help cover the cost of potentially adding more services and facilities.
A consulting firm — Golder Associates — delivered a report to commissioners earlier this month detailing options to close the landfill and manage state monitoring requirements.
The project is one of several being considered for the November ballot as part of a request to use proceeds from a 1-cent sales tax.
Town and county officials reviewed updated information about the project Tuesday and are supposed to decide by the end of the month how to move forward.
New information emerged Tuesday that increased the potential price of one option to from $10 million to $15 million, compared with estimates that ranged from $9 million to $10 million..
All of the candidates said using money from the 1-cent specific purpose excise tax would fairly place some of the cost of closing the landfill on visitors.
“The landfill is an issue that deals with our entire community and that the county as a whole has to address as an issue,” Perry said. “The [specific purpose excise tax] is a better form of revenue than raising property taxes or using money from the general fund, as locals and visitors alike would be contributing toward the funds to close the landfill.”
Several candidates said the project has to be considered in the context of residents’ long-term needs. That means leaving open the possibility to expand services.
“At a minimum, the old site needs to be capped and closed,” Fuller said, “but in determining the best way to do this, we should look into the future to see if we can be proactive in planning for our waste stream in the long term.”
Allen said the choice boils down to two options: find a new site or expand at the existing site. Finding new land would be expensive and probably would draw a significant amount of resistance from residents who don’t want a landfill near them, she said.
“The facility we have is inadequately sized to deal with the amount of waste that we are generating,” Allen said. “We can either find a new site or retrofit the existing one. If we were to find a new site, even if the cost were the same or slightly less, there would be many complications from neighborhoods that didn’t want a transfer facility next to them. It makes more sense to create room on the old site for new buildings to accommodate the stockpiling of concrete, wood, scrap metal, glass and compost.”