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Coastal Voices: Solid waste: Remember all the accomplishments

On Wednesday, I retired as the director of the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority.

It has been apparent for some time that the Board of Commissioners and I have fundamental disagreements about the proper direction for the agency, especially regarding the possibility of dissolving this partnership between the city and county and totally privatizing solid waste in our community. For this reason, it is in the interest of both parties to negotiate a separation.  

In response to the question of “missing money” referred to in a Thursday Triplicate article, let me state unequivocally that I have done nothing illegal. Three separate auditors have investigated this issue with an indeterminate conclusion.

There is no evidence or even a suggestion of impropriety on my part. The only thing that I am being blamed for is the fact that I was the director when this problem occurred.

If I am going to be held responsible for this recent accounting issue, then I should also be given credit for my many accomplishments over the last 20 years. It is only fair that I should be evaluated on the totality of my employment here. Let me go back to the beginning.

 When I first moved here in 1993, the entire system was privately operated by Del Norte Disposal, aka Recology Del Norte. It ran the collection vehicles, operated the county-owned landfill and collected the fees at the gate. After state agencies started imposing enforcement orders and fining the county for violating anti-pollution laws, the private company was able to walk away with no cost or liability.

The county and ultimately the county rate-payers got stuck with the bill.

There has always been pressure to keep the rates low and some old-timers remember when disposal was “free.”  The problem is that 20 years ago the cost of closing and maintaining the landfill was not charged to the customers and the county was receiving insufficient revenue to meet these obligations.

This cost was simply passed on to the next generation. Today, there is still a $2.2 million liability for the closed landfill and this cost is being charged in current rates, because it was “free” way back when.

The Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority was formed and I was hired to clean up this environmental mess and develop a new waste management and recycling system. Today, the authority operates a model transfer station. The rates are the lowest in the region and customers regularly drive from Oregon for this reason.  

Accomplishments over the last 20 years include:

• Closing and remediating the county-owned landfill.

• Monitoring and maintaining the closed landfill.

• Reducing landfill liability more than $500,000.

• Adopting the first zero waste plan in the country.

• Designing, permitting and constructing a model transfer station.

• Setting rates to incentivize recycling.

• Expanding county-wide recycling collection.

• Exceeding state recycling mandates.

• Establishing regular household hazardous waste collection.

• Supporting product stewardship programs for hazardous products.

• Initiating household battery recycling at local stores.

• Starting a pilot program for carpet recycling.

• Contracting to provide free paint take-back at the transfer station.

Currently, the authority generates sufficient revenue to pay all expenses without relying on any subsidy from the city or county and without any tax funding. Past deficits in the authority budget have been paid from cash reserves and have never cost the city or county a dime. Finances have stabilized and cash reserves are growing. I am leaving this agency on sound financial footing.  

I am proud of my accomplishments over the last 20 years, and I am excited about the future. I am retiring from public service and going into business for myself. It is rewarding to see how quickly consulting opportunities are opening up for me. I expect that I may be traveling more, but I intend to live in Crescent City. This is my home and I will continue to be active here.

Change can be hard, but I am embracing this change and welcoming the new possibilities that are presenting themselves. Doors are opening and I am walking through.

Kevin Hendrick is the former director of the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority.

 

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