Washington county debates taking landfill private, solicits interest from big players
- The Cowlitz County Board of Commissioners in Washington voted 2-1 at its Aug. 15 meeting to release a request for qualifications to potentially operate the Headquarters Landfill, as reported by The Daily News. Though non-binding, the decision sparked local debate as the board's solid waste advisory committee recommended postponing it for further consideration.
- The RFQ estimates the landfill's value, including the leachate pipeline, to be more than $37.9 million. The site is estimated to have about 100 years of remaining capacity at its current rate of accepting 550,000 tons per year, and is currently profitable for the county. Though upcoming state greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements are expected to cost $5 million per year.
- The RFQ was sent to Waste Management, Republic Services, Waste Connections, Recology and Santek Waste Services. All responses are due by Sept. 14.
Cowlitz County purchased the landfill from Weyerhauser, a major owner of timberlands, in 2014 and currently contracts with Waste Control Recycling to operate it. The landfill's construction was reportedly controversial, as was a later decision to begin accepting municipal solid waste. Earlier this summer, county commissioners had discussed the potential of selling the site, but appear to have walked back from that after hearing public concern about losing control of operations. The decision to release the RFQ itself was up in the air until this week's vote.
As stated in the RFQ, this move remains non-binding for all involved and the county is pledging to keep high standards. Among their stated goals is that "the County realizes significant financial and non-financial returns on County achievements and investments, while assuring absolute commitment to continued excellent environmental and operational performance..."
Any private operator would be expected to follow relevant environmental regulations and could be better-equipped to implement procedures needed to comply with the upcoming state emissions guidelines based on experience elsewhere. As tip fees continue to rise across the country, it's also possible that a private operator could raise the fees at Headquarters. The landfill is known for having very low tip fees, making average disposal costs in Cowlitz County some of the lowest in the state. Depending on how a potential agreement is negotiated, increased tip fees could end up being beneficial for the county budget, though public scrutiny can be expected to remain high for any final deal.
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