Rappahannock trash contract should reduce costs at landfill

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This view looks down on the Battle Creek Landfill at the foot of the Massanutten Mountain and the George Washington National Forest.

By Randy Arrington

LURAY — It’s not a done deal.

While supervisors in Rappahannock County unanimously signed off Monday on a 10-year deal to haul their trash to the Battle Creek Landfill, Page County supervisors have not yet voted on a final agreement.

Several months ago, Page supervisors agreed to enter negotiations with neighboring Rappahannock about their waste disposal. Their contract with Updike Industries was expiring, and Page entered a competitive bid — $34 per ton, versus Updike’s $56 rate.

“We’re trying to get extra volume, which drives down costs,” said Jeff Blevins, Battle Creek’s solid waste operations manager. “It takes the same amount of fuel to process one ton of waste as it does 10 tons. More revenue lowers the overall costs to the residents, and we want to lower it, if not eliminate it altogether.”

The $34 per ton rate for Rappahannock nearly mirrors the $33.75 per ton rate currently under contract at Battle Creek for Warren County.

Page officials will begin renegotiating the Warren County contract next year, just prior to its 2022 expiration. When the contract was first signed, the per ton rate of $33.75 barely exceeded the $32-per-ton cost to process trash at Battle Creek. However, operating costs at the Page landfill have now gone down to about $26 per ton.

“We’ve been watching our spending,” said Blevins, who took over operations in March 2017. “We now have one engineer now, where we had two engineers dong the same job.”

Those engineers conduct routine testing and reporting to agencies such as Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality for both Battle Creek and the old Stanley Landfill. Battle Creek has not received any violations in its last six inspections going back 18 months.

Currently, the Battle Creek Landfill takes in just under 200 tons of trash per day on average. Its lifespan is estimated at another 58.8 years, based on an intake of 350 tons per day.

“And we’re not getting anywhere close to that,” Blevins said.

The current cell in operation, Cell 10, was constructed in 2015 for nearly $3 million and is expected to last until 2025. The Rappahannock contract is estimated to only add about 11 tons of trash per day.

Under the offer made to Rappahannock, Page will haul their trash over the Blue Ridge mountains and through the Shenandoah National Park to Battle Creek in the western end of the county. But county officials are quick to point out that the new truck was not purchased just to haul trash for Rappahannock.

“The purchase of a roll-off was approved with the current budget to replace a 2005 model with several hundreds of thousands of miles on it that had been costing increasing amounts to maintain and repair,” Page County Administrator Amity Moler said.  She also noted that a $150 fee per trip would be charged for the hauling service, which should cover the debt service on the new vehicle. The truck has been ordered, but had not yet been delivered as of Wednesday.

Moler went on to add that the county’s landfill is operating much better than it did in years past. When the county took full control from third-party operators more than 15 years ago, the contract buyout came with a $13 million debt.

“Over the last two years, we’ve refinanced the landfill debt at a much lower rate, saving the taxpayers more than $2.4 million over the term of the loan,” Moler said. “We’ve also increased revenue and cut expenditures making the cost per ton lower.

“We are looking for a way to bring in additional revenue without raising taxes,” Moler continued. “If we are able to work out an agreement with Rappahannock, it will result in lower tipping fees for our citizens.”

The Page County Board of Supervisors is expected to address the Rappahannock trash contract at its Feb. 18 meeting.

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1 Comment

  1. So, would the proposal essentially mean Page County taxpayers (including me) subsidize garbage disposal for neighbors to the east?

    I understand that it “costs” Page $26 a ton to operate the landfill — an improvement.

    But, have county officials studied “the market?” In Fauquier, less than an hour’s drive from Luray, we pay about $45 a ton to ship our trash to a huge landfill in Henrico County.

    It would be valuable to see a chart of costs for a decent-sized sample of Virginia jurisdictions, because $34 a ton looks like a real bargain.

    And, despite the improvements in Battle Creek’s operation, the landfill has a tortured history. How much have Page County taxpayers “lost” because of past poor decision-making over the years? Should county leaders do everything they can to recoup as much of that as possible?

    Would $40 a ton represent a good deal for Rappahannock and Warren counties as well as Page? Does the proposed contract leave “money on the table?”

    Perhaps the board of supervisors has all of that research. If not, as the county’s fiscal stewards, the supervisors should have as much context as possible before ratifying the contract with Rappahannock.

    Charging $40 versus $34 a ton, would generate less than $20,000 a year in additional revenue. But, the deal also would further cement Page’s place in the market. Whether selling cars or providing professional services, it’s difficult to raise the customers’ costs significantly once they get accustomed to paying certain prices. It makes sense to think not only about the short term but to consider the more distant future.

    Transparency builds trust among citizens. PageCountyNews.com will, I trust, dramatically improve the amount and quality of information citizens receive. As a native, taxpayer and close follower of Page County news, I’m rooting for all involved, especially the citizens, who’ve suffered too much for too long.

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