County ups garbage fees, should impact residential bills

MONTESANO — Garbage rates for residents across the county will go up next year after the county commissioners on Monday increased the “tipping fee” paid by garbage companies to haul waste to the central transfer station in Central Park.

The commissioners increased the wholesale rate by 75 cents to $94 per ton, effective Jan. 1, 2014, which will trickle down and impact the monthly solid waste bill for consumers by about six cents for a customer, who has a 65-gallon tote picked up every other week — the service provided to the majority of garbage customers.

Following the trend that has developed in recent years, each city on the Harbor with a garbage contract and the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, representing the unincorporated areas, will move to boost rates for customers based on the tipping fee increase.

The transfer station is managed by LeMay Enterprises.

The rate hike is on top of a $5.75 increase to the tipping fee done earlier this year to pay for more operational costs and a new stormwater filtration system at the transfer station. That boosted residential garbage rates by about 40 cents.

Public Services Director Kevin Varness says the latest rate hike increases the tipping fee by 31 cents to cover the increased costs the county bears to export the trash out of the transfer station, 29 cents to cover an annual increase LeMay’s is guaranteed each year and is 16 cents to cover additional county costs.

Varness notes that most of the earlier rate hike that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2013 is expected to go away at the end of the year. However, he just received notice from LeMay’s that additional stormwater work may be done to help come into compliance with a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in May of last year 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.

Because of LeMay’s contract, the majority of the stormwater upgrades has been absorbed by the county’s ratepayers.

Varness notes that the contract expires at the end of next year. The county’s separate export contract also expires in April.

“We’re looking to come out with the best deal,” Varness said.

Varness says that a $94 tipping fee may sound like a lot, but the cost was predicted to be at $120 by this time when the local landfill was developed in the 1990s. Frugal spending practices has helped keep the tipping fee lower than other counties in the region.

“Over the years, we have decided we don’t want the big Cadillac program, we just have had the basics,” Varness said.

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.

This year, the state also didn’t give the county funds to do a public tire drop-off event, either.

County Commissioner Wes Cormier asked Varness Monday morning what would it take to bring a spring cleanup back and whether it would have any impact of stopping residents from dumping tires and other waste in the woods. A big illegal tire dump was recently found by the county a couple of months ago.

“If we provide free dumping for people, would we see a reduction in illegal dumping?” Cormier asked. “That’s a philosophical question.”

Varness said that the spring cleanup costs about $80,000, which would be absorbed by residents all over the county, a move he didn’t see as fair because residents in cities would have to pay for it, as well.

“Being around here when we used to have a pretty large spring cleanup program, we had just as much dumping in the woods then, if not more than what we have now,” Varness said.

“There are some people who will spend $30 in gas just to dump in the brush where they could dump for $8 in the dump,” Commissioner Frank Gordon said. “It’s just a philosophy they have. Somebody is telling me they’re going to do this so I’m going to do what I have to do to avoid it. And there are some pretty well educated people who have that philosophy.”