Commission to consider solid waste proposals

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County commissioners are trying once again to plan and implement a comprehensive solid waste program for the unincorporated parts of Valencia County.

They will be considering approving a request for proposals for solid waste services at their meeting today.

On Aug. 3, commissioners held a workshop to hear from County Purchasing Agent Mike Vinyard and Environmental Coordinator Sarah Schnell.

Vinyard and Schnell presented the results of an online survey of residents and a request for information sent out to the solid waste industry.

"We did an RFI to the industry, survey of the public and had numerous public input sessions," Vinyard said. "We have been working on this for a long time."

The upshot of the surveys and meetings is that there is a strong interest in mandatory curbside pick-up, a need for additional waste disposal centers, significant interest in recycling and that illegal dumping remains a major problem.

"Through the survey and responses to the RFI, we know illegal dumping is a major, major problem that we need to address. It is unsightly and dangerous," Vinyard said. "Curbside pick-up eliminates most of it. We have casual illegal dumpers. They get annoyed with the long lines at Conejo or it's closed, they go off down a side road and pitch their stuff."

Vinyard felt the number of what he called "malicious dumpers" was small.

"We think curbside will eliminate most of the problem. Given the economy of scale, looking for the best deal, with minimum damage to infrastructure, we would recommend a single hauler to provide curbside pick-up, as well as comprehensive recycling. Those go hand in hand. Not a token program — it has to be comprehensive."

The survey indicated that county-owned and operated Conejo Transfer Station is widely used, Vinyard said, but it does have problems.

"It would need improvement. The citizens indicated they would like an additional transfer station," he said.

During discussions on the solid waste program, Vinyard said one idea considered was the possibility of phasing in a single hauler.

"Maybe in three years, just to throw out a number," he said. "We recognize the small haulers in Valencia County are impacted by this, and we don't want to yank the rug out from underneath them, if we can help it. But we also need to look at what is best for the citizens of Valencia County."

Vinyard said phasing in the single hauler would defer the actual procurement until 2015.

In the meantime, the delay would allow haulers that would like to participate in the bid process time to construct facilities for recycling, trash collection, even services such as composting, Schnell said.

"We would ask the vendors — those who are seriously interested in this — ask them to step up and show dedication to the citizens of Valencia County, to put infrastructure in place," Vinyard said.

Commissioner Georgia Otero-Kirkham said as a business person, deferring the procurement didn't make any sense.

"Why would someone invest in setting up a whole trash collection and recycling program if they're not sure they are going to get the job?" Otero-Kirkham asked. "It just continues the status quo until 2015, continues the illegal dumping for another three years. It doesn't make sense."

Schnell pointed out that it would take any company time to build facilities.

"If a company decides it wants to pick up all the solid waste in Valencia County, it might be willing to put forth the effort for that chance," Schnell said. "The creation of additional facilities would happen prior to procurement, making them available to the citizens until the procurement process was completed."

Commission Chairman Donald Holliday said he didn't see it taking a company three years to build a facility.

"We've been stalling on this for three years, and this will stall if for three more years. We're just going to chum the waters and see if they come in," Holliday said.

"We let the contractors respond but it's not for us to be telling them how to run their business. They are going to want to recoup costs. Look at the renovations on Burger King," he said. "They were closed for a week, working day and night because the sooner they were done, the sooner they could start selling burgers again."

Vinyard said there was some "angst" between he and Schnell over whether they were pursuing the right option

"But there's a saying: 'Perfect is the enemy of the good.' We can spend forever trying to get there. The good might not satisfy everybody but we need to make progress. The citizens have spoken," he said. "Not everybody is going to be happy. We have to look at what we can do to please the majority of the citizens and move. And that is to improve Conejo, build another transfer station and go out with a single hauler RFP. This is a priority item and it is time to move."

Commissioner Ron Gentry said the county has looked at those options time and again, and rejected them.

"We've been to the well about three times. We need to make the decision to either privatize or go forward with a program and run it ourselves," Gentry said.

The commissioner said he would prefer to issue two separate RFPs — one for curbside trash collection and a second for recycling services.

"We have reports from the state that this county can't support a major recycling facility. Let private business do that as a free enterprise," he said. "Georgia is right. No one is going come in here and build. We've gone along and said we'll have curbside, and somebody comes along and throws the giant fly in the ointment that is recycling."

Otero-Kirkham said the county needed to "give the whole ball of wax to somebody. We need a comprehensive plan that covers mandatory pick-up, recycling, bulk item pick up. I don't think the county can afford to be in the trash business."

Gentry expressed concern that making recycling services part of the RFP would "exclude 90 percent of what we get. The smaller haulers, unless you have a multi-national company, can't afford to go into recycling here."

Vinyard said almost three-fourths of the 140 people who responded to the survey indicated they would like to have recycling.

"Perhaps we don't say how (the haulers) do it. We want it, how they do it is up to them," he said. "Do we need recycling centers here?"

Holliday left the room briefly and Otero-Kirkham, as vice chairwoman, took a comment from Bob Gostischa, a resident of Meadow Lake.

"If this is for the good of the citizens, why worry about (the haulers)? Tell them what we need done, let them do it and get it done," Gostischa said.

Gentry said the county could do all that if they "build a big center." Gostischa countered, saying the county wouldn't build it.

"Who's going to pay for it?" Gentry asked.

"I already am," Gostischa replied.

"The bigger we grow the monster the more the people will pay," Gentry said. "The ordinance says the commission will set the fees. That chicken will come home to roost. I don't think we can give a private business the right to set the fees."

County Manager Bruce Swingle said the survey indicated residents were willing to pay $20 to $25 a month for curbside pick-up.

"People will be paying for a service they are getting," Otero-Kirkham said. "According to the survey, they want curbside, recycling, bulk items and convenience. We have to say, 'If this is what you want, this is what it's going to cost.' If I can get rid of plastic and newspapers without driving to Albuquerque, I'll pay for it."

Gentry said the entire mandated program would be paid for by the people living in the unincorporated areas of the county.

"This is not in the municipalities. For three commissioners, 75 percent of their people are in a city and it won't effect them," he said. "I want to make that clear. This is not 'county wide.' It's the unincorporated areas only."

Swingle asked if there was consensus from the commissioners to write an RFP with the following specifications: a single contractor that will maintain Conejo, as well as establish other convenience stations/collections sites, a plan with a recycling option, large item pick up and the contractor will do the billing.

Both Holliday and Otero-Kirkham said recycling had to be included, not "optional."

"Put recycling in and they figure out how," Holliday said.

"The 'option' is how they do it," Vinyard said. "Whether it's a big green barrel in the middle of town or bins at every house."

Commissioner Lawrence Romero said he wanted to make sure the RFP process was made open to local haulers already doing business in Valencia County.

"Last time we had a problem, people were happy with who picked up their trash," Romero said. "I think it's un-American to pick who does it."

Gentry said when the RFP is issued, it's "presumed winner takes all. All the rest of the haulers are out of business. I know a lot of people are happy with their hauler and we yielded to that last time. This goes back to only one hauler left standing at the end of the day."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.