Longterm solid waste deal would save county more than $2M

Gary B. Gray • Apr 8, 2013 at 8:39 PM

Washington County’s Solid Waste Committee on Monday unanimously voted to recommend a more than $5.9 million, 10-year agreement with Waste Management that will keep the county’s waste flowing to Iris Glen Environmental Landfill but result in a more than $2 million savings over that time.

County officials knew six months ago they had a good shot at saving a lot of money on solid waste disposal when three landfill operators each made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. The per-ton cost, or “tipping fee,” would begin at $26.65, nearly half of what the county currently is being charged at the city-owned site.

“We received three responses, and Waste Management was the low bidder,” said County Mayor Dan Eldridge. “We had talked about building a $210,000 transfer station in Jonesborough, but it just was not cost effective. This will save us $213,000 a year. That’s especially important right now, because we’re in such a flat economy.”

The Budget Committee will review the recommendation Wednesday. And barring any snags, the County Commission will make the final call on the proposed agreement April 22.

Eldridge said the county would maintain its five convenience centers and continue to use county vehicles to transport the waste from the centers to Iris Glen. The fee does rise as time goes by, but only by a few percentage points. And, transportation costs have been calculated at $2.25 a mile, rising 3 percent a year.

In November, the county received bids from Advanced Disposal Services, which opened a new landfill in Blountville last year and serves Kingsport; Republic Services, which operates Carter Valley Landfill in Hawkins County; and Waste Management.

The three bids received were roughly half the price that’s paid to dump waste at the city-owned Iris Glen landfill, which is $42.50 a ton.

Eldridge submitted an addendum to the initial bid proposal asking each of the companies to provide the per- ton cost for solid waste disposal at both a five- and 10-year fixed rate.

Early calculations showed the county could potentially save $200,000 to $300,000 on its solid waste disposal costs through a mix of pricing options. They also revealed that an additional $75,000 in savings could be had if the county chose to centrally locate a transfer station, rather than build the proposed $750,000 station on Harmony Road between Jonesborough and Fall Branch.

Eldridge and Solid Waste Department Director Charlie Baines have been using spreadsheets to work up some figures that show that transportation both from either transfer station site would save money, with the more centrally located station producing a nearly $20,000 annual savings alone. This is based on about 13,000 tons annually, 22 tons per trip and an average of 594 total trips.

The county spends an average of about $627,000 a year to haul waste from its five convenience centers to Iris Glen Environmental Landfill in Johnson City. That figure is based on averages from the past two years and includes number of trips, transportation costs, disposal costs and the tipping fee.

Solid Waste Committee members left that November meeting not knowing if the same number of bidders would be interested in submitting 10-year fixed rates, but they did know it could be a deciding factor in whether or not the county would construct a transfer station.

Johnson City officials have expressed concern that reduced tonnage at Iris Glen would ultimately be harmful to the Washington County Utility District, which is owned by the city but excludes Jonesborough.

Johnson City’s Solid Waste Division picks up residential waste within the Washington County Utility District — 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.

City officials have said the county may not be making the wisest decision, that tonnage could be reduced at Iris Glen and the move ultimately would be harmful to the WCUD.

Near the end of last year, the city’s Public Works Director, Phil Pindzola, told committee members that he was all for the county saving money. However, he said his calculations told a different story in that moving solid waste from a transfer station to Iris Glen appeared to add up to more miles and a higher expense than hauling from the convenience centers.

At the time, Eldridge told Pindzola and city officials that “It’s all math. There’s no emotion to this.”

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