Commission leans toward Adams County landfill, pushes for central setup

'our fee structure is disconnected from actual use'

Frei's framework

At the March 15 meeting, Idaho County Commissioner Mark Frei presented his framework for why the county is trying to revamp the existing solid waste system – which he said is “very convenient” for users.

A transcript of his remarks is here.

— A plan to put a regional landfill at the Kaschmitter Rock Pit east of town was buried by a backlash five years ago, and a fresh talk of a regional landfill had some locals wondering late last month whether Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt has been digging in the same old dirt.

But it’s not the same.

Five counties – Adams, Clearwater, Idaho, Lewis and Valley – are considering new digs for a regional landfill near Council, and Brandt has been Idaho County’s point-man for the joint powers agreement that would be needed for the counties to start formal talks with each other.

After paying the startup costs – which Idaho County Commissioner Mark Frei said would take five years – the counties would save a “substantial amount of money” in tipping fees, Frei told the board and about 20 others on March 15.

The new destination would be a major departure from the county’s current system, under which the waste private parties produce in Idaho County is deposited in open public dumpsters, transferred to the Simmons Sanitation station in Kamiah and trucked to Missoula.

Meanwhile, as the Lewiston Tribune and the Free Press reported in November, Frei has been working toward leasing the Kaschmitter Rock Pit as part of a separate plan to centralize how Idaho County collects solid waste in the first place. The open dumpster system would be closed. Most outlying dumpsters would be removed, their role replaced by two central depots – one near Grangeville and one near Cottonwood. County residents could bring in small amounts of household waste 24/7 or pickup loads during manned operation hours. Proof of residency would be required, and incoming waste would be surveyed.

Fees the county assesses have covered not quite all of the cost of keeping up the open dumpsters across the Camas Prairie and elsewhere, and the status quo has been “very convenient” for Idaho County solid waste system users, Frei told the board and the crowd at the outset of the March 15 meeting.

Frei then listed off a half-dozen ways a closed system would advantage the county: The county presently does not know the source of the garbage that ends up in the county’s open dumpsters, so “our fee structure is disconnected from actual use.” The county presently misses out on savings that could come from separating out different kinds of garbage, and the county hasn’t fully incorporated recycling into the solid waste system. Trash sometimes blows out of the county’s dumpsters, and the county is finding it “extremely difficult to control cost.”

Idaho County Commission chairman Jim Chmelik put the county’s commitment to controlling costs at the heart of the need for action. Chmelik told the March 15 crowd a 2012 deal with Simmons Sanitation is saving the county $250,000 per year – and avoiding a $32 per year hike on solid waste fees that would be needed to cover the cost of a bid by Walco Inc.

Even so, the county budgeted $1.76 million for solid waste this year – about double what it took to provide trash service a decade ago. Fees have covered the nearly all of the costs the last eight years, but in recent years, the county has tapped property tax dollars to cover about five percent of the total.

Chmelik told the crowd the dumpster service contract that covers the Camas Prairie and the Salmon River is currently operating “in the black” – and at a much lower cost for having switched from Walco to Simmons – mainly because diesel fuel costs are running significantly below the $2.69 per gallon level at which a surcharge kicks in.

Asked by Grangeville resident Renita Lee whether Simmons has delivered enough service to cover its side of the 2012 deal, Chmelik said “yes, absolutely.”

Lee asked who residents should address “when dumpsters are overflowing and the trash is blowing all over the place?”

“Us,” Brandt said. “Of course we didn’t have the anticipation of garbage blowing all over. We don’t want that. But, we did agree with Simmons to put in a location up here where we could blend in recycling and have this major drop-off spot. … There’s a location down at the Simmons transfer station, but if people want a convenient location up here, we need to work together to find that spot.”

Attendees suggested several alternatives to the Kaschmitter Rock Pit for a Grangeville-area center, mainly along U.S. 95 north of Grangeville. Frei had already looked into some of the places that were suggested, but some of the suggestions prompted new, if measured, enthusiasm from the board.

One of those suggestions yielded a new idea: the county has approached Bruce Graham about a location at the north edge of Grangeville. At the March 22 commission meeting, Frei reported the site would be cheaper than the Kaschmitter Rock Pit. He said it would cost the county less to lease – about $600 per month – but the county would have to do more up front, including construction and landscaping.

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