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County gives notice to tribes on reservation trash contract

Jun 12, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

After failed negotiations with a Wind River Indian Reservation agency, the Fremont County Solid Waste Disposal District board on Monday night voted to start a six-month termination notice on its tribal trash contract.

The board also decided to offer the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes a new deal for them to take over management of the four reservation trash transfer stations.

The board's decisions raise questions about the future of trash management and collection on the reservation that has been handled by the district under a contract with the tribes enacted in 1996.

The district board has been discussing potential changes to the tribal contract and management of the reservation's four transfer stations in light of financial challenges associated with the sites.

Board member Dick Rodgers made the motion that "we give six months' notice ... so that we've got a date set to get this done, because I've been listening to this for six years."

The board approved his motion with member Dave Hines casting the lone dissenting vote. Board members Travis Brockie and Mike Morgan were absent.

Board chairman Mike Adams commended the board for its action.

"I think that was one of the hardest votes this board has made," Adams said.

Tribal proposal

The decision followed a proposal given by Wind River Environmental Quality Commission solid waste coordinator Ryan Ortiz to handle the transfer stations in Ethete, Crowheart, Fort Washakie and on 17 Mile Road.

Ortiz proposed the district would pay the tribes roughly $505,000 to manage the sites and transport the trash to county facilities, but board members felt the amount was too high.

Additionally, the tribal proposal would have created a fee for users who are not Eastern Shoshone or Northern Arapaho members at the four transfer sites.

"I still don't like it we're going to start charging non-Indians on the reservation," board member Rick Klaproth said about the proposal by Ortiz.

"I agree," Adams said.

County's offer

Board member Jeff Hermansky during the meeting drafted a motion to send the tribes a proposal to pay them $375,000 annually -- the district's costs of handling the sites -- for their management services. The tribes would have to pay the district's going rate for disposal fees under the proposal.

"I think it's only fair to everyone else in the county that we follow the framework" of what it costs the district to operate the sites, Hermansky said.

Ortiz earlier in the discussion called such an offer a "losing proposition" for the tribes.

"I'll recommend they don't accept that ... then the operational proposal will back to you," he told the board.

At the conclusion of the hour-long discussion on the termination notice and the new proposal to the tribes, the board accepted Hermansky's motion that calls for a three-year contract with options to renew.

Board member Steve Baumann said the district should provide an offer to the tribes concerning the transfer stations after rejecting the proposal by Ortiz.

"We should have something in place as a proposal for them to chew on as well," Baumann said.

Adams noted the district's proposed amount is more than the 3 mills in property taxes it collects from the reservation. Hermansky said that "it's not equal, but that is our operating cost."

Hines and Rodgers voted against the proposed offer to the tribes.

"I think we're going about this backwards," Hines said, emphasizing he voted against the contract termination "because we never really gave them a counterplan."

Adams said the district provided Ortiz with an offer but the tribal representative rejected it. "I think the next step is to cancel the contract," the board chairman said.

Hines expressed doubt about reaching a successful arrangement with the tribes before the contract termination. "There's no way this will get done in six months," he said.

Under the initial plan proposed by Ortiz, the tribes would receive a 50 percent discount on the disposal fee of 4 cents a pound at the district's dumping sites.

Ortiz told the board the tribes would agree to pay the full 4 cents "but have the flexibility to raise our rates higher" for users at the transfer stations.

"If people are paying more because you contracted out," they could dispose of waste at a different transfer site, he said.

As part of their trash plan, the tribes are developing a central collection site in Fort Washakie using a $1 million grant for handling waste. Because of the grant, non-tribal members who use the four reservation transfer sites would have to pay a disposal fee while others would not.

"The people who are non-Indian are the ones that will pay the tipping fees at your facility," Rodgers told Ortiz, who said the grant represents compensation for tribal members.

"That's tax money, too," Rodgers said.

"That's how we view it," Ortiz replied.

Rodgers strongly opposed the $505,000 amount in the tribal offer.

"That's way more than the 3 mills. You do that, you're telling the rest of the county you're going to subsidize on the reservation," he said.

Hines criticized the county commissioners for not offering their help in the matter.

"They ain't here to help us solve this problem," he said. "We're faced with one of biggest decisions in the county, and every time we make a decision we get backlash."