Stanislaus County moves toward ending garbage deal with Turlock

kcarlson@modbee.comFebruary 11, 2014 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
    Recent stories written by Ken
    E-mail: kcarlson@modbee.com
  • On the agenda

    Stanislaus County supervisors took the following action Tuesday:

    •  Approved a call for design-build proposals from contractors for a 384-bed expansion of jail facilities on Hackett Road

    •  Approved changes to the historic zoning district for Knights Ferry

    •  OK’d a $73,600 increase in the engineering services contract for Crow Landing Road and West Main intersection upgrades

Stanislaus County leaders took action Tuesday to deal with Turlock’s decision last summer to send its garbage to Merced County.

The Board of Supervisors started the clock on terminating an agreement with Turlock for state-mandated solid waste reduction and recycling program services. That agreement will expire in August unless the city and county were to negotiate a new deal.

Canceling the agreement would leave Turlock on its own to meet state mandates for cutting solid waste deliveries to landfills in half, collecting household hazardous wastes and complying with other rules. Under a joint powers authority, the cities have reimbursed the county for tracking waste reduction programs for the member agencies, and cities get a 10 percent credit for diverting garbage from landfills to the waste-to-energy plant near Crows Landing.

The solid waste industry was upset by the economic downturn, which reduced the amount of refuse flowing to county landfills and privately owned disposal sites.

To cover their capital costs, landfill owners are desperately seeking new sources of garbage and cutting their rates, coaxing cities such as Turlock to realize cost savings. The Turlock council voted in July to send 90 percent of its garbage to Merced County’s landfill on Highway 59 on a 120-day trial basis.

The city stopped or greatly curtailed deliveries to Stanislaus County’s waste-to-energy plant and the Fink Road landfill near Crows Landing.

Stanislaus County officials said Tuesday that the local solid waste system developed over the years could unravel if other cities were to copy what Turlock is doing. The county and its cities are intertwined by agreements to send garbage to the waste-to-energy plant, complying with state-mandated recycling efforts and paying for landfill operations.

Revenue from disposal fees pays for household hazardous waste collection, illegal-dumping cleanups and environmental remedies at the old Geer Road landfill. A 2012 long-term contract with Covanta Energy for operation of the waste-to-energy facility requires at least 243,000 tons of garbage delivered to the facility each year.

County staff said Tuesday that the guaranteed tonnage to Covanta was not met in November, and the county and Modesto will be stuck with financial penalties if the shortfalls continue. Modesto has increased its deliveries to make up for Turlock’s diversions.

Turlock proposed using its cost savings to pay the county for individual programs such as household hazardous waste management, but the county rejected the idea. “If we start letting them take an a la carte approach, the whole thing could come tumbling down,” county Chief Executive Officer Stan Risen said.

Turlock has expected to save $500,000 to $750,000 annually by sending its waste to the Merced County Regional Waste Management Authority. The Merced facility charges $18 per ton, compared with $39 per ton charged by Stanislaus County’s waste-to-energy plant and the Fink Road landfill’s $33 per ton.

City Manager Roy Wasden said Tuesday that the city has not finalized a 15-year contract with Merced. Wasden suggested the city is not obligated to send its garbage to the Fink landfill or the waste-burning plant, noting in a letter to the county last week that other cities are taking refuse outside the county.

Jocelyn Reed, solid waste manager for Modesto, said the city has sent excess garbage outside the county but increased its deliveries to the waste-to-energy plant and Fink landfill after Turlock started dealing with Merced. Turlock disposes of about 41,000 tons per year.

“I understand they are trying to save money for their ratepayers, but everyone in the county has benefited from our solid waste system, and for one of our primary players to pull out seems unfair to the other players,” Reed said. Losing Turlock’s garbage has an impact on Modesto and eventually will lead to ratepayer increases for the remaining partners, she said.

Jami Aggers, county director of environmental resources, said talks with Turlock that began in August reached a stalemate. The county served notice in November that it intended to end the agreement with the city for Assembly Bill 939 waste reduction and recycling program services.

If Turlock leaves the system, the county and other cities “will have to put our heads together and figure out another model,” Aggers said.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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