Few takers step up to run Haywood’s landfill

Selling space in the Haywood County landfill might not be the windfall some county leaders were hoping for.

In a quest to save money on trash operations, county commissioners were looking for private garbage companies to take over the landfill and turn it into a money making venture — namely by selling space in the landfill to other entities needing a place to put their solid waste. At the very least, some county leaders hoped accepting trash from other counties and even other states could offset the cost of disposing of its own trash, which runs the county about $3.2 million a year in operations.

But only two companies that specialize in garbage and landfills expressed an interest in taking over the landfill during an open bid period that ended last Friday. Three other companies that originally expressed interest, including two major players in waste management, didn’t follow through with a proposal.

Of those that did, neither is willing to pay Haywood County for the privilege of running its landfill. Instead, they would charge the county — and the cost wouldn’t be any cheaper than what the county spends to run the landfill itself, according to a review of the bids.

One would charge Haywood County by the ton for the trash it dumped in its own landfill. The other would charge a flat monthly rate.

County Manager David Cotton is still hopeful, however. He believes there is room to negotiate with the firms, and that parts of the proposals show promise.

“I think there are some savings in there, but we just need to drill down,” Cotton said.

One of the bidders, Republic Services, which operates 213 landfills in 40 states, suggests the county would be better off shutting down its landfill and shipping its garbage to South Carolina — namely to a landfill Republic Services owns. Republic Services said Haywood County should “mothball” its own landfill in order to “stop the bleeding,” according to the bid. There are numerous massive landfills in South Carolina and Georgia that are more economical thanks to cheaper land, fewer environmental regulations and an economy of scale.

The other bidder, Santek Environmental, questioned how financially viable it would be to sell space in Haywood’s landfill. The firm said it would need to bring in 325 tons a day of outside trash — twice what Haywood residents generate — to make it worthwhile.

At that rate, however, a brand new section of the landfill now under construction would be full in under four years, even though it will take county taxpayers five years to pay off the $4.5 million loan to build the new section.

Both companies cited the expense of building new roads into the landfill as a drawback. The landfill quickly deteriorates into a mud pit navigable only by bulldozers during even minor rains. Before the county can sell space to outside haulers, it would need major improvements to make it accessible. One firm estimated it would cost $4 million to bring the landfill up to snuff, cutting into profits that would otherwise be gained by selling landfill space.

A third firm submitted a bid, but has no experience operating landfills or a trash business.

A solid waste committee made up of Haywood County staff and Commissioners Mark Swanger and Bill Upton will review the proposals in coming weeks. They will share the pros and cons with the board of commissioners, which will discuss where to go from here.

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