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Solid waste faces lawsuit threat over reservation contract

Sep 7, 2012 - By Martin Reed, Staff Writer

The district voted in June to start a six-month termination notice on its trash disposal agreement with the tribes.

The Fremont County Solid Waste Disposal District faces the threat of litigation stemming from its decision to terminate a trash management agreement for the Wind River Indian Reservation.

At the start of the Aug. 13 meeting, the district board amended its agenda to close a public discussion about an operational plan for the reservation that becomes effective Dec. 14 if there is no agreement.

When asked for a reason to discuss the matter in the closed-door executive session, solid waste district attorney Rick Sollars said, "It's litigation, potential litigation."

Two attorneys for the Northern Arapaho Tribe attended the meeting and departed after a discussion in open session about resolving the reservation management plan.

After failed negotiations for a new agreement, the solid waste district voted in June to start a six-month termination notice on its 1996 trash disposal contract with the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes.

With termination posed to take effect in December, trash management remains in question for the tribal areas.

Northern Arapaho Business Council chairman Jim Shakespeare invited the solid waste board to meet with tribal leaders to address the problem.

Noting there is "a solid waste problem on the reservation," Shakespeare said, "I cordially invite the solid waste to come meet with the Joint Business Council."

"It is a problem," he said. "The county is advising us to drop the agreement. We want desperately to work with solid waste."

Northern Arapaho Business Council member Norman Willow Sr. also addressed the solid waste board, questioning the taxation of tribal lands that benefits county government.

Calling it a "big concern to each and every one of us in the county," Willow said 60 percent to 70 percent of oil and gas taxes paid for tribal lands goes to the state and county.

"It's been going on for years, taxing the oil companies -- really haven't been following where the money goes," he said.

Willow criticized the solid waste board's action, which could lead to closure of the four trash transfer stations on the reservations.

"You shouldn't even consider (that) you're saying to close these landfills, because county residents use them," he said. "We see what's going on out there. It just isn't tribal members, it's county residents."

Willow remained optimistic about an outcome beneficial to all parties.

"I know everything can be worked out," he said. "Let's work it out."

Ryan Ortiz, the Wind River Environmental Quality Commission solid waste coordinator, told the board he wants more discussions concerning tribal management of the four

reservation transfer stations.

Ortiz previously proposed a plan for the tribes to handle management of the sites for roughly $505,000 annually. The tribes would pay the tipping fee of 4 cents at the landfills under his proposal.

During their meeting June 11, the district board members rejected Ortiz's offer saying it was too high and proposed a payment of $375,000 -- an amount equal to the district's costs for managing the sites.

Ortiz countered that at 6.3 million pounds of trash collected annually at the four reservation sites, the tribes would pay the district $265,000 in tipping fees to the district. The payment to the tribes after giving the tipping fees would amount to $110,000 annually.

Limiting the amount of garbage collected at the four sites is key to resolving the issue, said district board member Richard Rodgers.

"Until we control the garbage, we can't come up with any set figures," Rodgers said.

Board member Steve Baumann said the figure involves proper payment for trash disposal.

"The reality is the tons that come across the scale are equivalent for every member of the county. It's 4 cents a pound," he said.

Rodgers said the tribes need to come up with a plan for handling garbage.

"We really don't want to tell you how to run your facility out there," he said.

Sollars supported the opinion.

"It would be inappropriate for us to tell you how to run your operation under that kind of legal relationship" between the solid waste district and the tribes, Sollars said.

Board member Rick Klaproth put the blame for a lack of ongoing discussions onto Ortiz.

"We made a proposal and you just flat got up and walked out. ... Am I wrong?" Klaproth said.

"Nope, you're right," board chairman Mike Adams injected.

Ortiz said he thought the trash board would present its proposal to the tribal Joint Business Council. "I'm not at liberty to make decisions for them," he said.

Sollars said the district sent letters to the tribes dated June 14 that included the counterproposals, but no response arrived.

Ortiz provided the board with a letter as the response to the district from the Joint Business Council. It was dated Aug. 7.

"That's two months later, and you're talking about time running out," Sollars said to Ortiz.

Board member Dave Hines said the issue needs the involvement of all in the county and elsewhere in the state.

"It's not just a problem between this board and the tribes and the county residents, it's an issue that needs to be taken care of by the Legislature and the county commissioners," Hines said.

"I don't see our commissioner here again," Hines said, referring to a lack of attendance by the county liaison. "Every time there's a hot topic, they run for the hills."