County approves garbage rate increase

MONTESANO — Your garbage bill is going up next year to pay for increased operational costs, as well as a new stormwater filtration system at the garbage transfer station in Junction City.

On Monday, the Grays Harbor County commissioners approved an increase of $5.75 to the tipping fee the transfer station charges to garbage haulers LeMay Enterprises, Hometown Sanitation of Hoquiam and folks that use the dump. Cost will now be $93.24 per ton. Those charges will end up trickling down to residential garbage users for an increase of about 40 cents per month for a customer that uses a 65-gallon tote and gets it picked up every other week. Different garbage plans will different cost impacts. The rate hike is effective Jan. 1.

Since every city on the Harbor uses the transfer station, all residents will see a rise on their garbage bills. The state Utilities and Transportation Commission, which handles rates in the unincorporated areas of the county, and city councils with direct contracts with LeMay’s or Hometown Sanitation, will likely approve contract adjustments in the coming months to pass on the new costs. All of the contracts have stipulations allowing the companies to pass on costs to the cities and the county, in turn, to pass the costs on to residents.

LeMay Enterprises manages the transfer station and is in the midst of a $231,000 upgrade to capture stormwater runoff and to deal with increased metal content that could be going into the Chehalis River, according to Grays Harbor Utilities Director Kevin Varness. The county will also absorb the $90,000 needed to operate the treatment system annually, Varness said.

The upgrade is in the wake of a lawsuit filed in May in U.S. District Court in Tacoma by Waste Action Project of Seattle that alleges runoff from LeMay’s contributes to increased turbidity in Van Winkle Creek adjacent to the transfer station, which, in turn, causes pollution in the Chehalis River and Elliott Slough. The lawsuit also alleges Clean Water Act violations for increases in zinc and copper levels in the water that are higher than legally allowed, along with allegations of a failure to monitor the problems over the past few years.

The company has officially denied the allegations, but has moved forward with the upgrades to fix the problem.

The county ratepayers are also absorbing the $68,000 cost to install sprinklers in the wake of the fire that damaged the main transfer station in May of last year. The fire disrupted operations for several months.

“The sprinklers were important because it would have been very bad had the facility gone up in flames again,” Varness said.

More than half of the rate increase is to pay for the cost of sprinklers and the stormwater upgrades and it’s higher than it may have been because the county’s contract with LeMay’s expires in 2014.

“The county needed to recover these costs before the contract ends,” Varness said.

Asked if the rate will go down in two years, Varness said it’s unlikely because the operational costs will likely increase during that time.

The rate increase doesn’t include spring cleanup, which was discontinued by the county several years ago because of a lack of funds. The cities continue to do spring cleanups, which prompt questions when or if the county will ever revive their program.

The rate increase also doesn’t include upgrades to the county’s three rural garbage transfer stations at Ocosta, Hogan’s Corner and Elma. In August, Varness had recommended closing those stations or shortening their hours.

“If we want to keep them operating the way they are, it’ll take upgrades and another tipping fee increase,” Varness said. “We still need to figure those details out.”

Varness said he has not had conversations with the commissioners about the rural transfer stations.

Steven Friederich, a Daily World writer, can be reached at 537-3927, or by email at