The “small haulers” — the folks who load up their trucks and trailers after a small construction project, a yard cleaning or just some junk from an unproductive yard sale — should know that Iris Glen Environmental Center’s $83, two-ton minimum is a cold, hard economic fact.
There has been some doubt about whether the increase is justified, but City Manager Pete Peterson confirmed Tuesday it appears to be legally valid. However, he also said Houston-based Waste Management, which operates the landfill, did not inform the city about the rate hike.
“We were not consulted about the rate increase,” Peterson said in an email Tuesday. “Yes, our attorneys have reviewed the contract and have determined that Waste Management is allowed to raise fees as they have recently implemented. We continue to work to find a way for our residents to dispose of construction debris in a more cost-effective manner.”
The rate reflects a higher cost of doing business, and economic factors, Ken Haldin, Waste Management’s Southern Group spokesman said from Atlanta last week and again Wednesday. Nonetheless, Haldin also offered a statement Wednesday that seems to indicate the city was contacted, but not at the appropriate time.
“The city was provided with written correspondence about the increase on Sept. 14, although notification prior to that did not occur,” Haldin said.
The company must notify the city within 30 days of a rate adjustment, according to the 20-year agreement between the two entities (pg. 15, Sanitary Landfill Operating and Maintenance Agreement).
Both Waste Management and city officials have confirmed the increase went into effect Sept. 1.
This increase was for private citizens, who fall under the “non-member” status, and the adjustment was consistent with similar adjustments made in the Tennessee area, Haldin said. Prices at Waste Management facilities across Tennessee have gone up. Each facility is governed by different circumstances, arrangements and agreements. This means prices have increased, but no two facilities would necessarily see the exact same rate hikes, he added.
Public Works Director Phil Pindzola has held for about two weeks that attorneys representing the city were looking at the agreement to make sure the company had not overstepped its bounds. About three hours after receiving Peterson’s email Tuesday, Pindzola responded to an inquiry by the Johnson City Press, saying “Our attorneys should be talking with theirs. So, no change.”
Pindzola has said the rate increase is cause for concern, because it is causing Johnson City residents to dump materials into commercial trash bins, which has upset those paying for their exclusive use.
Non-commercial customers, who make up only a small fraction of Iris Glen’s daily routine, may be better served by using resources such as the Carter County Landfill, which has no minimum weight requirement and no charges for demolition materials above $42.50 a ton. Washington County also has convenience centers throughout the county that accept residential debris only.
Not only is the landfill’s primary business commercial and industrial in nature, the facility accepts solid waste from 26 counties in Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina, so its is by no means a mom and pop endeavor.
Meanwhile, these commercial rates are getting ready to increase.
“We’re getting ready for our annual price increase that will eventually go into effect,” said Michael Moore, the company’s East Tennessee Landfill operations manager. “Prices in Tennessee have gone up across the board. Everything went to a two-ton minimum.”
When Iris Glen established its $83, two-ton minimum, Waste Management did not mail residential customers to inform them of the increase, nor are they contractually obligated to do so.
Johnson City, which owns the land and utilizes the site for use by its Solid Waste Division, making it the “host user,” did not hold a news conference or send out mailers when the rate went up. They are not legally liable to take that action.
On Sept. 29, about one month after the rate increase, the Press received several telephone calls asking about the new price, including a call from City Commissioner Jane Myron, who said the public needed to know what had happened.
In 1991, the city signed an option agreement to purchase about 276 acres of land for $526,400 from General Shale Products Corp., which had been conducting surface mining for brick production. Since operations began, General Shale has received a 50-cent per ton royalty — an amount that cannot be less than $50,000 per year.
When Iris Glen began operating in earnest in 1994, its fees were $22 per ton for waste generated in Johnson City and Washington County, $25 per ton for all waste generated outside Washington County and $12 per ton for all non commercial residential vehicles.
The city and the Johnson City Regional Solid Waste System have exclusive rights to collect commercial and industrial solid waste in Johnson City and Washington County, with the exception of some areas within the town of Jonesborough.
Iris Glen’s new rate schedule should be available soon, and the Press plans to publish those rates.