Landfill contract is unfolding as planned — with promised savings

Jun 20, 2014

On the surface, the landfill contract with Santek Engineering is working out well for Haywood County residents.

Under the second phase of the agreement negotiated in 2011, once the amount of trash buried in the White Oak facility reached 396 tons per day, Santek would become responsible not only for day-to-day management, but for $13 million in closure and post closure costs of the facility as well as an expected $15.5 million for future cell development.

In addition to the contract, there are performance bonds in place to protect the county in the event the company doesn’t keep its promises.

The move to privatize the landfill operation wasn’t taken lightly. Financial spreadsheets showed Haywood was losing ground fast with rising costs and aged-out equipment. To maintain operations as usual would have required the annual solid waste household fee to rise from the current $92 to $150.

The trade off for Santek’s new role is that trash from 17 surrounding counties can now be buried in Haywood.

There has long been a resistance to allowing outside solid waste to be buried here, and the privatization move required that barrier to be lifted.

County officials spent months and months researching the company, its history and plans for first managing, and then taking over all operations for the county-owned landfill in the White Oak community before making the decision.

Siting new landfills, somewhat like siting new power plants, has become extremely difficult in our society. Between the NIMBY attitude (not in my backyard) and the strict regulations in place at both the state and federal level, county leaders knew finding another place to dispose of trash generated in the county would be a more than challenging task.

That’s why the life expectancy of the facility that had already been permitted was paramount in discussions that opened the door to out-of-county garbage being hauled here.

Santek engineers and officials assured county leaders that, as experts in the landfill business, they would be using the most up-to-date equipment to reach maximum compaction rates, and were familiar with the latest techniques to ensure available space was maximized.

They were so confident in their ability to manage the landfill more efficiently, even though more tonnage is being buried, that they guaranteed the landfill would serve future needs for the next 30 years.

If that didn’t turn out to be the case, the company would cover the cost of handling county refuse during the contract period. The company is contractually bound to carry $10 million in insurance and performance bonds to back up its performance.

Meanwhile, a $1.5 million annual expense has been turned into a $100,000 revenue stream for the county, which receives 5 percent of the revenue from each ton of garbage buried, and the tipping fees — amounts consumers and municipalities pay when they haul garbage to the landfill — dropped from $55 a ton to $22.25 a ton.

While unforeseen situations can crop up, if all goes as planned — something that has been the case so far — Haywood County taxpayers are being served well under the Santek public-private partnership arrangement.