Bids much lower for Washington County waste disposal

Gary B. Gray • Nov 18, 2012 at 11:57 AM

Washington County is in a position to save hundreds of thousand of dollars on solid waste disposal.

Two days after City Manager Pete Peterson was tasked with renegotiating the city’s contract with Houston-based Waste Management — a response to the county’s move to build a transfer station and/or find a lower disposal rate — the bids for the county are in.

Each of the three bids for disposal are roughly half that of what the county currently pays to dump its waste at the city-owned Iris Glen Environmental Landfill. That rate is $42.50 a ton.

“We had a bid as low as $18.20 a ton,” County Mayor Dan Eldridge said Friday. “We’re going to save a lot of money if we look purely at disposal. All the bids were within a 25-percent range.”

The county received bids from Advanced Disposal Services, which opened a new landfill in Blountville this year and serves the city of Kingsport; BFI, which operates Carter Valley Landfill in Hawkins County; and Waste Management, the company providing city service.

Three prices were sought: disposal only, in which the county would transport waste to a landfill; disposal from a transfer station; and, disposal, transportation and operation of the transfer station.

The county is considering spending up to $750,000 to build a transfer station on Harmony Road between Jonesborough Springs and Fall Branch. County residents would be able to bring waste to the site. It then would be taken by the county to “the least expensive landfill,” Eldridge said.

“Our goal in this was to look at three elements in this process to determine the best combination of services to achieve the most cost-effective method,” he said. “There will still need to be a lot of analysis, and it probably will take us until the first of the year to develop several scenarios. But the initial conclusion is we have an opportunity to save hundreds of thousand of dollars.”

The next step will involve evaluations of options, including transportation costs to the landfill, which could result in being so expensive that county officials would need to rethink the overall plan. The Solid Waste Committee, Solid Waste Director Charlie Baines, Purchasing Agent Willie Shrewsbury and Eldridge will collaborate.

At the city’s special called meeting Wednesday, Peterson told city commissioners the new transfer station would mean those receiving curbside service (in the county) from the city would be facing higher prices.

The city’s Solid Waste Division picks up residential waste within the Washington County Utility District county WCUD — which is owned by the city but excludes Jonesborough — at about 6,000 to 8,000 locations and takes that to Iris Glen. The county has five convenience centers, two of which sit on city-owned property. These “bins’ are taken to Iris Glen by the county.

“We feel the transfer station is not a good move,” Peterson said Wednesday. “We feel it will ultimately be harmful to the WCUD. If this waste goes somewhere else, it will decrease tonnage at the landfill. They’re (county) going to be locked in for 10 to 20 years to cover their expense, and that will come out of their general fund -- a fund the city contributes to significantly through property taxes and other taxes.”

Vice Mayor Phil Carriger said he was “disturbed that we’re not seen as part of the family.”

The Wednesday meeting included mention of options that might be offered to the county. One possibility being considered is that Waste Management submit to the county a competitive disposal rate for their consideration -- a proposal Peterson said could save the county “well into six digits.” Another proposal is for the city to expand services to include curbside service county-wide, close or modify convenience centers and remove $1 million from the county’s general fund as a contribution for the services

With action underway by both the city and the county, it would seem that the lines of communication would be open. When told of these proposals Wednesday afternoon, Eldridge said he would be interested in hearing alternatives “if Johnson City has a creative solution.”

“I’ve not communicated with him at any time this week,” he said Friday when asked if he and Peterson had been in touch.

The Johnson City Press sent an email to the city’s Community Relations Office at 8:59 a.m. Friday asking Peterson to provide any information regarding negotiation with Waste Management and that a follow-up story was being written on the issue. The request was not acknowledged by the end of business.

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