Solid waste board to be resurrected
October 12, 2023
A joint powers board formed in 2016 to investigated options for a countywide solid waste district will likely soon be revived. The board, which included representatives from the county and each municipality, met regularly but ultimately disbanded without reaching a resolution.
Last week, after a discussion that involved numerous elected officials from across the county, the county commissioners determined that resurrecting the board was the most reasonable next step in answering the lingering question of whether it’s worth constructing a landfill for the whole county.
Council Member Joe Wilson, Sundance, approached the board at the regular meeting of the Crook County Commission to propose the formation of a solid waste district.
His intent was for the district to determine the feasibility of a countywide landfill and investigate the various options for the future of solid waste removal. If this research suggested that a county landfill was the most viable choice, voters at the next election would be asked to decide whether to approve a mill levy to fund construction of that landfill.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this is 100% the right thing for Crook County,” Wilson said.
He explained that he feels the future of solid waste is something that affects every citizen of this county, whether they live inside or outside city limits, and that the possibility of a countywide solution has never been pursued to a conclusion.
“I’m not comfortable just letting this thing completely die,” Wilson said.
He stated that it would be worth taking the time to “turn over every stone” before dismissing the idea permanently, arguing that it is the responsibility of today’s elected officials to think about the future of the county and ensure our kids are not still banging their heads against this wall in 20 years.
He stressed that the formation of the district does not mean the mill levy would appear on the ballot – this would only occur if the landfill is found to be the most viable option. He also noted that he would only support a mill levy that would sunset out once the costs of construction had been paid.
Wilson cautioned against the thought that building a landfill would reduce the cost of garbage services in the county.
“There’s no way we can dig a multi-million dollar hole in the ground and I can make your garbage cheaper,” he said.
This is not about reducing costs, Wilson continued, but creating a “secure service” for the future.
In Support - Or Not
Commissioner Bob Latham agreed with Wilson’s thoughts, saying, “I think we need to at least see if it’s a viable solution”. Large numbers of people are still moving to the county, he continued, and there is no way to predict that outside landfills will not one day raise their rates too high or close their doors to outside trash.
Commissioner Fred Devish also agreed, though recognized that, “This is a tax issue for a lot of people”. He stated that this is a long-term issue and there is no way to predict what problems may arise.
“[Do we] shoot the horse before the trip, or try and figure out what the facts really are,” he questioned.
Support for the idea was far from unanimous, however. Karla Brandeburg, Mayor of Pine Haven, asked what has changed since a study undertaken a few years ago revealed that insufficient trash is generated within the county for a landfill to pay for itself.
The people of Pine Haven are already up in arms over taxes and have one of the highest tax burdens in the county, she said – they would really “go through the roof” with this one. She asked why another study is necessary, “When that one proved it was not a good idea.”
Council Member Dan Blakeman, Pine Haven, was also against the idea of further study on the basis that he feels the question has already been answered.
“Where were you 13 years ago?” he asked Wilson. At that time, he said, the question was studied to death and there was absolutely no way to make a landfill work.
The closest it was possible to get was to include Weston County and a portion of Campbell, he added.
He also noted that most people are not seeing an issue with their garbage, which means they are not seeing a reason to spend the money.
“We live in a great county, but nothing’s on fire until it’s on fire,” he said.
Roger Connett was not opposed to the idea of researching the issue, but felt strongly that it should only be done in earnest. He said he was part of the group that investigated the idea 13 years ago and the frustrating part was that nobody wanted to resolve the issue, just argue about it.
Even when a private company approached Moorcroft to take over their landfill at no cost to the town, the idea was gunned down, he said.
“Unless we really want to resolve the issue, don’t start a district,” he said.
Devish commented that privatization may indeed be the answer. Wilson agreed that he would absolutely want to bring private companies into the discussion.
Chip Neiman chimed in to share the results of his own recent research into the issue. Neiman said he had spoken with representatives from the Belle Fourche landfill and ascertained that it processed 38,500 tons of garbage last year and is making about $1 million per year in profit.
It takes from a very large area, he said, and it is in the best interests of the operator to draw as much in as possible. In the near future, he added, they are looking to begin a new process of turning garbage into power, and this will support the landfill’s need for quantity.
“In all honesty, I think this ship has sailed,” he commented.
A few years ago, Neiman said, the county had a real opportunity, but solid waste is volume-based and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said it was trying to get away from smaller landfills as they are so costly to maintain. The smaller the landfill, he said, the more costly it is.
In addition, he shared that DEQ told him that, if it ever came to it, they would do something to help the county rather than leave the community stranded without a garbage option.
“The volume is not there and you’ve got facilities around you that want what you produce,” he concluded.
Devish pointed out that normal household garbage isn’t the only problem – there’s also the people dumping refrigerators and sofas off the county’s two-track roads because they don’t fit in the garbage can and people don’t want to drive them to Belle Fourche. Neiman shared that DEQ representatives told him there are dollars out there to help build construction waste sites to avoid this situation, however.
Supporters of the district idea still felt there was worth in doing the homework. Latham, for instance, said he would like to see numbers on paper for the situation now, rather than over a decade ago.
The district would be tasked with looking for a path forward, if there is one, Wilson said. He stated he would not play fearmonger and say they won’t be other options forever.
However, those options aren’t guaranteed, and nobody knows what the future holds. For that reason, he would finally like to put a pin in the idea rather than “look back in 20 years and wish we had”.
There have been so many instances where the county was on the cusp of doing a good thing and didn’t, he concluded, stating that – with Moorcroft about to cap its landfill – he considers this the last chance.
County Attorney Joe Baron reminded the commission of the joint powers agreement put in place in 2016 and said he does not have records showing that it was formally dissolved. If not, the structure still exists and can be revived, he said.
With no objections from the room, this was determined to be the best next step.
“It’s worth spending a little time on,” Devish said.