Commissioners reluctant to form solid waste district
January 14, 2021
The commissioners intend to decide in February what should be done about the imminent closure of the last remaining landfill in Crook County. According to Mayor Dick Claar of Moorcroft, the formation of a solid waste district is the only way to convince the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that the county is serious in its efforts to move forward.
However, there was reluctance during last week’s meeting to create a formal district. Commissioner Kelly Dennis expressed concern that doing so would place the decision-making with the district’s appointed board, which would mean the commission had no say in whether to place the question of a mill levy on the ballot.
His preference, he said, would be to perform a feasibility study without formally creating a district. Commissioner Jeanne Whalen was similarly reluctant to make a commitment at this stage and said she would prefer to form a committee to look for solutions.
“No-one is against this…no-one in this room wants this dump closed. We just want to work together to find a solution,” she said.
Unfortunately, said Claar, this would not satisfy the DEQ. He told the commission that a solid waste district is needed to give the agency the impression that the county is moving forward in order for them to extend the timeline before the Moorcroft landfill must be closed.
Fred Devish felt differently to his fellow commissioners.
“I think the opportunity to pursue this is now, it’s not going to be later,” he said, reiterating that forming a district would not mean committing to anything.
In the grand scheme of things, he said, placing the mill levy on the ballot will mean that every voter in the county gets a say in whether the district moves forward. He later added that not every district gets the mill levy funding it requests; the Crook County Natural Resources District, for example, continues to function despite never having received mill levy approval on the ballot.
During the meeting, numerous concerns and questions were raised. The first to speak was audience member Skip Waters, who recalled a study performed in 2018 that concluded it would not be feasible to run a countywide dump because the quantity of trash needed to make enough revenue is not available without external customers.
That’s true, said Claar. “I believe the county is really growing though,” he said; it was later pointed out that the feasibility study did not consider the impact of including mill levy funding.
At this time, Claar confirmed, the Moorcroft landfill is used by Moorcroft, Sundance, Pine Haven, Upton and private hauling companies, including the company that is contracted to collect Hulett’s trash. If the original feasibility study said there was not enough tonnage to make the landfill viable, Waters asked, where could more be found?
Claar responded that he does not have these answers because the idea is to form a district and appoint a board to investigate all such questions and possibilities.
Waters objected to Claar’s suggestion that the tipping fee for everyone within the district could potentially be set to zero. His argument was that trash should work more like utilities within the municipalities: when you use more, you pay more.
Waters asked why the rest of the county should subsidize a Moorcroft facility. “We’d close up [without it], that’s all there is to it,” Claar said.
Claar also briefly made the case that it’s a two-way street: county residents would be contributing to the landfill, but city residents in turn subsidize services for county residents. As an example, he pointed out that a Moorcroft fire truck would respond to a fire at a county ranch.
Waters also took issue with the idea of using a mill levy to fund the landfill.
“Do you guys believe that it’s fair to tax people on the value of their property to support of this instead of having the people that contribute the tonnage to your dump…do you really think that’s a fair way of doing this?” he asked.
Claar responded that he can’t answer as to what’s fair and what isn’t, but it is what’s needed to keep the landfill open. He reminded the room that forming the district does nothing more than create a board to study these questions.
“It’s not something that just goes into effect,” he said, reiterating that any decision the board made to ask for a mill levy would still ultimately be decided by the county’s voters.
Commissioner Dennis expressed concern that the district would include entities such as mineral companies, which are taxed at full value but would not benefit from the district. Landowners adjacent to the Moorcroft landfill expressed concern about wind-blown debris and items being tossed in their pastures when the landfill is not open and asked that this be taken into consideration during future discussions.
Craig Hemmah of C&A Meats asked the commission to at least give the idea consideration, saying that he has exhausted just about every avenue to dispose of waste and is currently hauling to Moorcroft; if the dump closes, he may need to haul to Casper, “Which would essentially put me out of business.”
Sheriff Jeff Hodge noted that, if there is no local landfill, “You’re going to have trash everywhere.” The county already has a problem with people dumping items on Forest Service land and private property and that would increase, he said.
Also speaking in favor of forming a district was Sundance Council Member Joe Wilson, who said he feels it’s important for the county to maintain control over its own trash and prevent the loss of the last landfill in the county. While he agreed that Waters had brought up good points and said he understands concerns, he felt it’s important to at least take a look at it again to see if it could make sense.
“This is kind of our last opportunity to see if we can do it in Crook County,” he said, asking the commissioners to just provide the opportunity to take a look at what might be possible.
“Give it a chance – let us try it to see if it is feasible or not.”
When asked about a survey that was issued to the community a couple of years ago, the commissioners confirmed that 512 respondents were in support of a district and 300 were not. It was suggested by an audience member that this was reason enough to at least look at the idea.
Also from the audience, Jeff Burian offered a possible solution in the form of a Torrington company called TDS that has “graciously offered” to take over the landfill at zero cost to the county. Claar explained that Moorcroft has spoken with this company extensively and that they are not interested in any of the responsibility of keeping the landfill open, such as lining the pit or paying for monitoring.
TDS just wants to run it for a fee, he said: “They wanted to lease our car and run it till the wheels fall off and then give it back to us.” Wilson added that there is no reason a board could not include the possibilities of private ownership in its investigation.
Still reluctant to form a district by the end of the two-hour discussion, the commissioners accepted Representative Chip Neiman’s offer to speak with the DEQ and seek answers as to how the county can move forward without necessarily forming a district. The commission agreed to reconvene on February 2 at 10 a.m. to hear the answers and make decisions.