More talk, no action on waste

By Adam Spencer, The Triplicate June 03, 2013 05:00 pm

In a standing-room-only joint meeting of city and county leaders Tuesday night, impassioned pleas were voiced mostly for — some against — preserving the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority.

Discussion of the much-contested future of the authority was prompted by a county proposal for an independent assessment of alternative forms of overseeing all things waste- and recycling-related in the county.

Some officials chafed at the narrow focus of the proposed analysis, which only listed privatization as an alternative to be vetted.

“If you only want to look at privatization as the option then you’ve skipped over all of the other options that are out there,” said county Supervisor Martha McClure. “I’m suggesting that if you’re going to do an analysis, you do an analysis across the board.”

Such an analysis, she suggested, would include looking at the possible outcome of Crescent City and Del Norte County mutually withdrawing from the “joint powers agreement” that created the Solid Waste Authority, as well as what would happen if only one entity withdrew.

Among the questions: What would happen to the liability and required monitoring of the closed landfill? Who gets the asset of the transfer station? What about the current franchise contracts with collection company Recology Del Norte and transfer station operator Hambro Waste Solutions Group?

All questions the analysis would presumably address.

But no such analysis was pursued during Tuesday’s joint meeting.

Still, the opportunity to support or criticize the authority was seized upon by elected officials and the public alike.

County Supervisor Chairman Mike Sullivan made frequent references to the three fiscal years that the authority was running a deficit (2008/09, 2009/10 and 2-10/11).

City Councilwoman Kathryn Murray, who was chair of the Solid Waste Authority Board at the time of the new franchise choices, said Wednesday by phone that the old franchise rates were not covering the costs of the newly constructed transfer station. Once the new franchise and transfer station rates were implemented, the deficit was fixed, she said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Sullivan questioned the manner in which the deficit problem was solved.

“As a business owner you can’t just jack up your fees to cover costs and that’s what the authority finally did to get their books in order,” Sullivan said.

McClure cautioned against the county moving toward dissolving the authority before knowing the what the outcome would be.

“It’s a slippery slope that if you move in that direction and you don’t have those answers, it could cost the county hundreds of thousands — if not millions —  of dollars,” McClure said.

Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen called McClure’s warning a “doom and gloom” sentiment ignoring possible benefits.

“To put the fear out there that this is an organization that we could not do without, well that’s a bunch of bologna,” Hemmingsen said. “The truth is that this could save both entities hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.”

On the public comment side, all but four of the two dozen commenters expressed support for the authority, with the most common theme being, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Irene Tynes, a former mayor who now serves on the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, which holds the permit for the closed Crescent City Landfill, spoke to the high marks that her current water quality staff gives to the authority.

A former member of the Mendocino County Solid Waste Authority Board said her authority’s staff was a bit jealous of the amount of grants that Del Norte’s Solid Waste Authority brings in.

Even conservative icon Ronald Reagan was referenced to support the anti-privatization parade of speakers. Reagan didn’t say do away with all government; he said make government more efficient, the speaker said.

A representative of a county employees union raised legal concerns that the move to privatize could violate the rights of some authority employees, and that there are limitations to what can be privatized.

Concerns were voiced over the cost of the analysis.

The fact that the Del Norte transfer station has lower rates than in Curry and Humboldt counties was mentioned.

A local psychologist even diagnosed the social problem and pleaded that the elected officials hear what the people were saying.

On the opposition side, the past deficits, perceived high rates for businesses and high salaries for the authority’s top brass were once again referenced as problems with the agency.

In calendar year 2012, Authority Director Kevin Hendrick’s salary was $93,165, and program manager Tedd Ward  made $64,809.

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