County: Landfill revenue down

Published 11:44 pm Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Since hitting a peak in 2006, host fees paid to Escambia County for the Timberlands Landfill have been on the decline, county officials said.
In fiscal year 2006, host fees amounted to about 10 percent of the county’s general fund budget, with $731,599 paid to the county from the landfill, which is now operated by Allied Waste, said County Administrator Tony Sanks.
But since then, the fees, which are based on a sliding scale depending on how much waste is dumped at the Highway 41 landfill, have decreased each year. In fiscal year 2010, the county received $314,292.50, which is about 4 percent of the county’s general fund budget.
“We’ve seen a gradual decline as other landfills have opened,” Sanks said.
Escambia County officials — along with city councils in Atmore, Flomaton and Brewton — have passed resolutions opposing the proposed Conecuh County landfill.
Conecuh Woods LLC has filed an application for the 5,100-acre landfill, and a public hearing is set for March 10 to hear comments on the issue, which has spurred opposition from throughout the region.
Opposition also ran high when the Timberlands Landfill was built, although the circumstances were different and the landfill was smaller in scale.
In 1992, Escambia County officials were faced with a dilemma: The Environmental Protection Agency was forcing them to close two of its landfills because they did not meet new federal requirements.
Trucking the waste elsewhere would have required the county to build costly transfer stations, said Escambia County Commission Chairman David Stokes, who was also a county commissioner in the early 1990s.
Instead, the county opted to have a private company — run at the time by former Gov. Fob James — build the Timberlands Landfill on Highway 41 near the Wallace community.
As unpopular as it was at the time, Stokes said the Timberlands landfill was the right decision.
“We were like everyone else in the country,” Stokes said. “We were digging a hole, putting our garbage in and burying it. Believe it or not, it was environmentally the right thing to do.”
James’ company later sold the landfill to a waste collection company; it is now run by Allied Waste.
The landfill permit for Timberlands allows it to collect waste from 21 counties, but Sanks said the number is fewer than that, and the fees paid show the waste collected is decreasing. A recent study estimated that Timberlands has about 19 years of life left.
Conecuh Woods officials have said that the facility could generate $294 million in host fees, spread out over a proposed 63-year life of the facility.
In their application, Conecuh Woods officials said that they expect the landfill to accept waste from every state east of the Mississippi River, plus Louisiana.
Conecuh Woods officials pointed to the site’s rail access as key to its ability to collect garbage from other states.
“Within the state of Alabama, the property is well located along the I-65 corridor between Montgomery and Mobile to minimize solid waste transportation costs on a per ton-mile basis for the southern half of the state,” the company’s application states. “Moreover, with the property having direct rail access, the environmental, safety and economic transportation costs of moving solid waste on a per ton-mile basis can be reduced significantly, in some cases up to 90 percent, over the cost of transporting waste in garbage trucks and long-haul trailers.
“Looking toward the future, as traffic on the roads and the cost of fuel both increase, and as the population becomes ever more conscious of the public safety and environmental costs associated with long haul trucking, rail hauling of waste is likely to become a more integral part of the waste transportation and disposal solution due to the significantly lower costs — in terms of safety, the environment and economics — on a per ton-mile basis.”