News of Riverton, Lander and Fremont County, Wyoming, from the Ranger's award winning journalists.
Legislation to give counties more funding for landfills
Oct 11, 2012 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
The Wyoming Legislature will consider two bills during its upcoming session that should help cities and counties deal with solid waste problems.
State Sen. Eli Bebout talked about solid waste this month during a meeting of the Riverton City Council, describing the two bills that should make it more feasible for Fremont County and other Wyoming communities to maintain their local landfills.
The proposed legislation was developed after lawmakers reviewed a study from the Department of Environmental Quality that identified 114 landfill sites in Wyoming as possibly contaminated. Bebout said cleanup costs could reach $350 million.
"We decided we really needed to try to come up with a plan," Bebout said.
He has worked with other legislators to develop a solution, first by addressing dozens of unowned, or "orphan," landfill sites in the state.
"No one owns them and no one wants to, so they become property of the state," Bebout said.
Other sites serve smaller communities that don't have the resources or funding to pay for the landfills, Bebout said. Lawmakers have reviewed those with the DEQ to determine which pose the most pressing public problems.
"A leaking landfill next to the Wind River should be a high (priority) site compared to Sand Draw, which is miles away from any kind of water," Bebout said.
Once the landfills are prioritized, he said the state has to figure out how to pay for work at the sites. Bebout said he captured about $30 million for landfills during the most recent legislative session, and he hopes to come up with more this year.
"We're going to try to allocate $40 million more to build this account up," Bebout said.
If they are passed, the two landfill bills being introduced this year will dictate how that money is spent, Bebout said. First, the Municipal Solid Waste Landfill Remediation Bill will allow the state to take over orphan sites and hazardous landfills that serve smaller towns.
"We as a state will assume responsibility of those sites and take over to try to solve problems to mitigate that impact," Bebout said.
Another bill would create a loan and grant program through which the state can help larger cities address solid waste problems.
"So if the Fremont County Solid Waste (Disposal District) wanted to come up with a way to deal with a particular issue they could go to (the State Lands and Investments Board)," Bebout said. "SLIB will have funds to help deal with a particular issue with a landfill."
He said the state would pay for no more than 75 percent of any given project, because "we think all the communities should have some skin in the game." But Bebout said smaller towns won't be expected to pay as much as larger cities like Cheyenne and Casper.
"The bigger cities with more revenue will be able to afford (landfill projects) more than smaller communities, particularly in Fremont County," Bebout said. "There will be criteria they have to fulfill to participate."
The landfill program would be funded through an ongoing revenue stream, Bebout added, suggesting that money previously used to address leaking above-ground and underground storage tanks could be moved to the landfill fund.
"We've been dealing with that (storage tank) issue in Wyoming, and we've done a good job," Bebout said. "As that winds down it might be a good idea to take those funds and ratchet up the solid waste ... accounts."
Bebout also wants to work with the DEQ on landfill permitting issues. For example, he would like to see a general permit developed to cover smaller landfills so the process to build one isn't so complicated. He also wants the DEQ to allow un-lined landfills in areas with the proper geology.
"If you don't need to line it, there's a procedure set up so you can do that," Bebout said. "It makes no sense to pay $10 million for a liner for a landfill if you don't need it."
Riverton City Councilman Rich Gard said he and other representatives would help Bebout "push back" on the solid waste problem. Bebout replied that "money is the problem."
"But we have a plan, and we'll continue to work with it," Bebout said. "We're making progress."