BLUEFIELD — The Mercer County Landfill could be losing its recycling program as well as other conveniences.
Eli Testerman, manager of the landfill, said the landfill is spending nearly $100,000 a year to process recyclables, such as metal, paper and plastics, but not enough money is coming in from waste disposal to sustain the recycling service.
The landfill is operated by the Mercer County Solid Waste Authority (MCSWA).
“It not only accepts waste, but it also accepts recyclables such as cardboard, mixed paper, aluminum cans and #1 and #2 plastics at no charge,” Testerman said. “However, this service may soon become a thing of the past. Recycling is expensive and sorting and processing the materials is labor intense.”
Testerman said the extra cost of recycling is not a problem if enough other waste is disposed of at the landfill to offset the expense.
“Much of the waste in Mercer County is not delivered to the Mercer County Landfill for disposal,” he said. “Empire Waste/Lusk Disposal hauls the waste they collect out of the county to either Monroe County or McDowell County for disposal. The remaining Mercer County waste is picked up by the cities, Fly-By-Nite, individual contractors and customers and delivered to the Mercer County Landfill for disposal.”
The amount of waste being taking out of the county now has increased, though, because the City of Bluefield has begun to haul its waste to the Tazewell County landfill.
Testerman said that loss “could force the MCSWA to quit accepting some recyclable materials and reduce the landfill operation hours.”
When disposal companies and cities look for lower disposal rates, the landfill’s hands are tied, he said.
“The landfill rates are set by the West Virginia Public Serve Commission,” he said. “The MCSWA cannot negotiate separate rates for entities like the City of Bluefield. The same rates apply to everyone-individuals and entities. Lower prices cannot be offered to cities or larger haulers to use our facility. Further, the tipping fees have to be sufficient to support the landfill operating costs since it is funded solely by the fees received from users. It has no other source of funding.”
But for Bluefield City Manager Dane Rideout it’s an economic decision based on saving the city money.
“That’s a cost-savings initiative,” he said. “We, like the rest of the municipalities, are trying to figure out how we can streamline processes and save the taxpayers monies by due diligence and looking at other opportunities that are a cost savings.”
Rideout said the city wants to be “team player” and he understands the dilemma the landfill is in.
“The unfortunate thing is that in West Virginia it is sometimes very hard to do business,” he said. “The MCSWA’s restrictions (on fees) is exactly one of those (examples).”
Rideout said transporting the city’s waste to the Tazewell County landfill saves almost $15 a ton.
“When you are talking about over 400 tons of solid waste a month, you start seeing the savings,” he said, adding that the city can save enough money in a year to purchase a new garbage truck without raising rates on customers. “That’s a big deal.”
As a comparison, the city paid the Mercer County Landfill about $41,000 for 837 tons of waste disposal during July and August 2017. To dispose of about 825 tons in July and August this year at the Tazewell County Landfill, the cost to the city was about $32,000.
There is no extra expense in transporting the waste either, he said, because the Tazewell County landfill is about the same distance from Bluefield as Mercer County’s is.
Rideout reiterated the decision was purely a financial one, adding that the city’s recyclables are still taken to the Mercer County Landfill, at a cost of about $30,000 a year to the city. Those would be shipped to Wytheville if the landfill here discontinues the program.
Discussions with the Mercer County Landfill had been going on for some time before the decision was made, he said, so the landfill was not “blindsided” by the city’s decision. But there was “no wiggle room (on the cost), no wiggle room whatsoever” for the landfill.
Testerman said the landfill is monitored by several regulatory agencies and has regular inspections regarding its compliance to stringent environmental regulations.
To guarantee the landfill is maintained and operated in a safe and environmentally friendly condition, it is also required to set aside funds for closure, post closure and new cell construction, he added.
“This money also comes from the disposal fee,” he said. “The landfill rates have not increased for over 20 years. In addition, $8.75 per ton of the waste disposal fee is returned to the State of West Virginia and used to fund such organizations and programs as DNR (Department of Natural Resources) officer salaries, solid waste enforcement and recycling.”
The rates at the landfill were set “so that an environmentally regulated disposal site could be operated and funded based on receiving the waste from Mercer County. Due to the waste being hauled out of the county, some of the litter collecting efforts have been lost, recycling efforts have been restricted, and other conveniences to the citizens of Mercer County are in jeopardy.”
Some of those conveniences include the free disposal of waste collected from open dumps and litter collected during organized litter clean-up events. A one-day-a-month free waste disposal for all Mercer County residents also may be lost.
“Mercer County is fortunate to have a facility that accepts recyclable materials,” Testerman said. “That facility is the Mercer County Landfill, a nonprofit entity, which operates solely on fees received from waste. It receives no funding from taxes or the Mercer County Commission.”
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com.