• Arne Mortensen

Cowlitz County Landfill update - 10Jun2018

The most recent event about the landfill (Headquarters Landfill, HQLF) was the 5 June presentation to the Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC) by the Public Works Department and Republic Services. Axel Swanson, the County’s Chief of Staff, opened the session by giving a very brief introduction in which he outlined the agenda.

Jackson Hogan reported on this event in The Daily News. And Northwest Digital News did a follow-up show, which can be found at . BTW, NDN is an internet show that often presents topics of substantial impact in/to the county.

Let me go to the last event of the evening first. Eddie Westmoreland, a representative from Waste Connections, one of the companies which participated in the process to gain the approval of the County’s review board, the board created to evaluate the response from companies interested in operating the landfill, asked Axel Swanson to speak to the SWAC (and the attending public). This meeting allowed no comment from the public; Axel Swanson should have ruled that request out of order, however, he turned it over to the SWAC, which should have called its own special meeting, if it wished, to deal with Eddie Westmoreland.

Eddie Westmoreland made strong statements impugning the process by which Republic had been selected and, implicitly but obviously, attacked me. I call attention to the following Aesop story, . EW asked the SWAC not to recommend that the County continue with negotiations with Republic Services; his purpose evidently is to obstruct his competition.

The story with me and EW begins in December of 2016; he wanted to take me out to dinner to discuss the landfill. I agreed to meet him in Olympia during my “new commissioner” training program, but, as I do with any entity with which I have decision making power, I refused to take his dinner offer. His proposition was voiced strongly as follows: he wanted a sole source agreement between the County and Waste Connections to go into negotiations for an operating contract. He also gave a very low figure for his suggested offer for the contract to operate the landfill. How low? I am not sure whether I can say at this point, but when it does come out, you will be angry that someone who claimed to be for the county would try to take a county asset at many times less than its real value. I just listened, as I usually do, but I felt very negative. Typically, if anybody wants a sole source agreement, I think they have something to hide.

The SWAC decided that night to reconvene another meeting to develop a recommendation. Meanwhile, I will continue the push to get information out to the citizens. I, yet, have not found one logical reason to stop going forward with Republic Services. If the BoCC votes to continue with Republic Services, of course, as we get deeper into details, negotiations may break down. I am committed to the well being of the entire county, not any one subset or class; commissioners are responsible to all 105 thousand plus citizens.

The first presentation was by the county Public Works Department (PWD). Presenters were Mike Moss and Ron Williams from the PWD, Kevin Willis from Waste Control, Mr. Thiel, a consultant, and Larry Fultcher, a consultant. I will be very brief here just outlining some few key points (I have discussed many others elsewhere):

  • The county presentation depended on the assertion of performance by consultants who are vested in keeping the process the same. In other words, they stand to lose their income if Republic becomes the operator. Within that, it isn’t clear what the incentives are that would cause the interest of the County to rise above the individual interests. To be clear, I do not doubt the sincerity of Mike Moss or Ron Williams.

  • One assertion worth discussing is that PWD will have access to a lucrative long-term supply of waste. This is not the case … this is evidenced by the fact that out of county waste is coming in at a lower fee than what we, county citizens, pay. This should not be, of course.

  • Mike Moss emphasized “flexibility” if HQLF remained under County operation. What flexibility? That is just a feel-good word that needs some fleshing out. Under Republic Services the County will have oversight and the County citizens (all of them not just a few) will enjoy favorable guaranteed rates. Republic Services can shift waste streams around to comply with any demand from Cowlitz County waste needs. Did you know that waste that is not permitted for HQLF already goes to the Republic Roosevelt landfill?

  • PWD did not and cannot protect the County from the political, market, and environmental risks at the HQLF. Republic can and will. They can because they are a $22 billion company regularly audited financially as well as in every other imaginable arena for compliance to environmental regulations as well as to individual contractual agreements.

  • The County projected a 72-year lifetime and a total net revenue to the County of $435 million over that time. Republic Services has guaranteed $495 million over a lifetime of 80 years, but forecasts more than $650 million over that same lifetime … and Republic takes all the risk.

The Republic Services presentation was at a higher level, with the assumption that people had already learned of the financial minimums that had been presented now for several weeks. Here are some comments:

  • Republic was too subtle and seemed not to realize that misinformation had set a bias which they had to counter. For example, they had opportunity to emphasize their vast experience and financial depth that makes their guarantee of indemnifying the County from risk a believable and extremely valuable consideration.

  • Republic could have gone into financials more in depth. Explaining that even in the PWD’s assumed scenario, the Republic offering was better.

  • Republic did well in showing the letters of endorsements from the BoCC from Klickitat and Washington County, Utah. The testimonials are impressive and gave a great foundation for why Republic is a good fit for Cowlitz County.

What is next: on the 19th of June at the Event center, Republic Services is having an open house at two times. I’ll publish details as soon as I have them handy. Maybe Steve Gilmore from Republic will give it as a comment to the Facebook posting of this blog entry.

Sometime in mid-July I hope to have a BoCC special hearing for the BoCC to vote on this issue. The consequences of not going forward with Republic Services are significant … no, dire.

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