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Opinion Letters Clarification of options for future waste disposal

I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify the costs associated with future solid waste disposal options that I presented to the Board of Commissioners at their Nov. 19, 2013, meeting. I say clarify and not correct as both local papers reported the numbers in the same manner, so I must assume it was my telling – rather than the reporting – of the costs of each option that may give readers a misunderstanding of the potential increase in costs as we fill the current landfill and look to future disposal options for the County.

From the feedback I have heard, the takeaway seems to be that each option will result in an annual increase in costs of over $1 million as taken from the total cost estimates I reported. When considering the potential for an increase in annual costs from the estimates, one must reduce the estimates by the current operating expense of approximately $830,000 per year (which was also reported) in order to see the increase in landfill operating costs.

However, to get the true sense of an increase in costs, you must look at the entire department and not just at the landfill operating costs. Within the solid waste budget is an additional $400,000 per year that can be used to offset this increase. These funds were budgeted to pay for the original debt service on the existing landfill until 2007-08, when the debt was paid off. At that time, we took on new debt to close the C&D Landfill and construct the Highlands Transfer Station, and to replace several pieces of landfill and recycling equipment. This debt was also in the range of $400,000 per year, and was paid off over the last two years. Currently, these funds are being used to pay for development of the new landfill and the purchase of replacement landfill equipment, with the goal of having relatively new equipment paid for before we begin construction of the new landfill so that we don’t have debt for both the landfill and equipment hitting at the same time.

With all of that said, the truest estimate of increase to the entire department from each of the options would be to reduce the total cost estimates by an additional $400,000 per year. Therefore, the most proper estimate of annual cost increase for each option would be as follows: Option 1: Construct Phase III as designed: $412,000/year; Option 2: Ship and Tip: $690,000/year; and Option 3: Construct expanded Phase III: $42,000/year.

I also want to make a couple of additional comments about these numbers. First, these are admittedly crude estimates for projects Macon County has not taken on for almost 20 years, and that remain a couple of years away. To that end, the primary goal of my presentation was to present the estimates in comparison to each other more than in total, meaning I considered only a few variables that specifically related to each option.

What my presentation did not consider is a broader look department-wide as to other changes we might make to see if we may be able to further offset or reduce any realized cost increases. For example, the development of new recycling and recovery programs to divert additional waste away from the landfill, thus preserving airspace and reducing the unit cost of future landfill development. This has long been a goal of this department, and over the past decade, we have realized a 40 percent increase in landfill life because of these efforts, which has delayed the need to consider the options above by several years.

In summary, I hope the real takeaway for readers is that although landfills, and solid waste management in general, is an increasingly expensive endeavor, it is the goal of this department and county to provide a high level of service at as low a cost as possible and to maintain control of our waste stream so that we are not limited in options or at the mercy of outside forces in providing this essential service to the people of Macon County.

Chris Stahl, director of Solid Waste Management

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