County offers to accept suburban Chicago garbage at discount—Trash, or treasure?

In a voice vote July 23, the Winnebago County Board gave the nod for William Charles, Ltd., to offer space in its Winnebago Landfill to an out-of-town waste hauler at a local rate.

The tipping fee, or gate fee, typically levies $3.27 per ton to the county from non-local landfill users. But with passage of the resolution, the county is offering to knock a dollar off the price-per-ton for one company.

Groot Industries, Inc., based in Elk Grove Village, estimates it will haul 1,200 tons of refuse into the Rock River Valley daily, and the county’s discounted tipping fee is intended to make sure Groot doesn’t take its garbage and its business elsewhere.

The Winnebago Landfill, 8403 Lindenwod Road, is in the I-39 corridor, between Baxter Road and the Ogle County line. But Veolia Environmental Services, which operates a landfill a mile south of the county line, is also hoping for the garbage windfall from the east.

Rick Pollack (R-13) explained, “There is competition for this bid, and if we can help out in that competition to a local company, I think we should do that.”

Stephen Rypkema, director of Ogle County’s Solid Waste Management Department, said he was not aware of any request by Veolia for Ogle County to reduce its tipping fee to secure a deal with Groot.

“There are two host agreements that affect waste received at the Veolia Orchard Hills Landfill,” Rypkema reported. “One is with the Village of Davis Junction, and the other is with Ogle County. Neither agreement includes a differential rate for out-of-county waste.”

According to Rypkema, Davis Junction’s host fee rate is $2.57 per ton.

Rypkema explained Ogle County charges $1.91 per ton of waste for up to 150,000 tons per calendar quarter. For waste in excess of 150,000 tons per quarter, the county receives $2.55 per ton. The average rate for 2008, Rypkema indicated, was $2.32 per ton.

Winnebago County leaders view the potential deal as an opportunity to leverage future economic development.

John Ekberg (R-10), whose family owns property adjacent to the landfill, abstained from voting, but said, “Not many people want a garbage dump in their back yard, but it’s possible that this could be good for not only the whole community, but it can be good for that corridor.”

If William Charles is able to secure the six-and-a-half-year deal with Groot, the county is expected to see an increase of approximately $700,000 per year in new tipping fee revenues, despite discounting the rate by about one-third for Groot.

According to John Lichty, vice president of William Charles Waste and Environmental Services, the Winnebago Landfill already accepts approximately 3,000 tons of garbage per day. About half comes from outside the county, he said.

The additional 1,200 tons of rubbish Groot would haul in each day, however, gave some board members reason for pause.

“It’s going to reduce the capacity of the landfill,” Pete MacKay (R-5) argued. “I can’t support this. I chaired the first two hearings they had down there, and I recall their attorneys telling the hearing committee that they would not be trying to entice other out-of-town companies to bring refuse.”

He added: “To deplete the landfill that’s available to the citizens of this county for money—which is all it would be—and reducing the life of the landfill, I can’t see any good reason for supporting this, unless you just want the money. And if you want the money, maybe the public needs a new board.”

If a deal is reached with Groot, Lichty reported the landfill is expected to reach capacity in 14-15 years, as opposed to the more than 18 years at the present pace.

Lichty indicated it would take about seven years to site and prepare a new landfill to accept refuse.

Mel Paris (D-8) reported having received a call from a constituent who was apprehensive about the proposed deal.

“His opinion was that he wasn’t so much opposed to the trash issue,” Paris said. “He was more opposed to reducing the fee. He thought if we’re the only game in town, we ought to be charging more, as opposed to less.”

Lichty reminded board members Groot has “other options,” but Steve Schultz (R-2) shared the concern.

“Because there’s a scarcity of availability for landfill space for Chicago and the suburbs,” Schultz suggested, “instead of discounting the fee, we ought to be looking at a premium instead.”

Also uneasy with the prospect of speeding up the need for new landfill space locally, he acknowledged, “You can just build more, but I think our citizens would be concerned with that.”

John F. Sweeney (R-14), however, argued it’s impossible to predict how quickly landfills will reach capacity as advances are made in recycling to reduce waste.

“I don’t know how you can even quantify, really, how much is gonna go into that landfill 10 years from now, because 10 years from now, technology’s gonna be different,” he explained.

Lichty indicated William Charles does not plan to shoot itself in the foot by running out of landfill space in Winnebago County anytime soon.

“Without going into specifics of our business plan, we have no intention of stopping that activity, whether it’s in that region of Winnebago County, or another,” he said. “Since we have no intention of ever jeopardizing our current business, we operate hauling companies in 17 counties, and we rely on our own landfill for most of the waste that those companies generate.”

According to Lichty, about 850 tons per day from 17 counties are hauled into the Winnebago Landfill by trucks owned by William Charles.

“We don’t want to jeopardize that,” he asserted.

Most recently, the County Board approved landfill expansions in 1990 and 2005. Lichty stated William Charles could be coming back to the board with expansion plans within two or three years.

Not only do county officials expect an additional $700,000 in tipping fees annually, but they believe the extra trash, too, will turn into dollars.

Sweeney pointed to the $8 million Integrys Energy Services system in place at the Winnebago Landfill to capture methane, which is then converted into electricity. As owner of the landfill, William Charles shares in those revenues. The amount William Charles receives from the revenue sharing could not be determined by press time.

“I see this influx of material almost as a raw material, or a resource, that our county can take in, and be a leader in the region for starting to have somewhat of a local solution to a national problem,” Sweeney asserted, noting the harnessing of methane also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Referencing a 14 percent unemployment rate in the City of Rockford, as well as layoffs, furloughs and other cuts on the county level, Doug Aurand (D-3) argued: “I mean, 700,000 [dollars]—that could put a few more deputies back on the street, which we might need. It could put some people in the jail. To me, it is an economic situation. These are hard times. And if we have an opportunity with a first-rate company, William Charles, to expand this at this point in time, and to bring additional revenue, I think we’re very foolish if we don’t do so.”

from the July 29-August 4, 2009, issue

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