Supervisors approve private operation of Sonoma County landfill
A decade after its Central Landfill was closed by water-quality regulators, Sonoma County officials signed off on a series of agreements Tuesday that represent the final step in an arduous effort to permanently transfer responsibility for the 170-acre dump to a private company.
The new agreements and amendments to existing ones mean the Arizona-based garbage company Republic Services is slated to take over operations April 1 under a 25-year deal worth an estimated $650 million.
“I think this is a good and historic day for the county in terms of what we do with our solid waste going forward,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose 2nd District is home to the landfill west of Cotati.
Supervisors, who voted 5-0 on the package, expressed relief and gratitude to staff that the agreements allowing the deal to move forward had finally been struck. Rabbitt said the effort to privatize operations has been “kind of a tremendous moving puzzle” because of the way the county had to get agreement on a wide range of technical and legal issues from all the cities that send their garbage to the 44-year-old landfill.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane called it a “really fabulous agreement” that brought the county, the waste management agency, Republic and eight of the cities together to reopen the landfill long-term while creating incentive for recycling.
“Our whole goal was let’s take away the financial incentive of putting trash in the hole,” and instead encourage people to reduce and recycle, Zane said. The yearslong effort involved deep research into the best waste practices around the world, she said.
“I think we have turned over just about every single stone or piece of trash in this discussion,” she said.
The handover by April 1 was considered crucial if Republic was to be able to complete a badly needed 10-acre expansion of the landfill before the fall. Failure to complete the new cell by then could force Republic to increase the amount of garbage hauled to other counties until the new work is completed.
Currently, because of space restrictions, 100 to 150 tons of garbage per day are shipped to landfills in other counties. If construction is delayed, more garbage would need to be hauled out of the county to preserve the fast-dwindling landfill capacity, said Susan Klassen, the county’s transportation and public works director.
The goal is to avoid a “worst-case scenario” where all 800 tons of the garbage produced in the county daily would be hauled elsewhere, she said.
Under the deal, tipping fees charged to waste haulers will increase to $126.45 per ton for waste from cities and $122.45 per ton for county areas. These fees will result in customers’ bills increasing approximate 2.2 to 3 percent, Klassen said.
That does not, however, include increased costs stemming from the composting operation’s legal and regulatory woes. Tipping fees for green waste could double under a proposal being considered by the waste agency board, but they have yet to be approved and it is unclear by how much customer bills would increase.
Sonoma County attempted to sell the landfill outright to Republic Services after it was closed in 2005 by state water regulators. But, in Zane’s lighthearted retelling of that chapter of county history, “the villagers came to us with pitchforks and trash bags and said ‘No, we want to keep our dump!’ And here we are six years later.”