Changes offered to local solid waste plan

March 3, 2012
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The Kent County Department of Public Works will hold a public hearing Wednesday on the amendments it wants to make to its solid waste management plan, which has drawn criticism from private haulers.

If the public works board approves the changes, the new plan will make the rounds to the county commission, multiple local government units and, finally, on to the state.

“The whole area of managing waste has changed and moved away from landfills,” said Doug Wood, county DPW director.

State law requires every county to have a solid-waste plan, and Wood said he actually revived Kent’s last fall. But he said an attorney, whom he didn’t identify, told him that he missed something, even though the county’s legal counsel said he didn’t. So he revived the revision anyway.

“I don’t want anyone to feel slighted about the process,” said Wood.

Not everybody is happy with the plan, regardless of the process.

The Michigan Waste Industries Association, which represents private trash haulers, went public recently with its criticism of the plan. Association President Dan Batts said the DPW’s proposal likely would cause some haulers to go out of business, would prevent communities from getting competitive bids for solid waste services, would require all trash and recyclables to be taken to a county-run facility, and would allow DPW to act as a monopoly and charge above-market rates.

Wood disputed Batts’ claims. He said the process for approving the amendments gets fully vetted by the DPW board, the county commission and the state Department of Environmental Quality. On top of that, he said two-thirds of the municipalities in the county also have to ratify the changes, and it’s unlikely that many cities and townships would agree to pay excessive fees to process their trash and recyclables.

Wood also said the process is open and transparent. Besides, he added, his department already has all the trash it can handle. “Our waste-to-energy facility is taking as much waste as it can,” said Wood. “We are not trying to take all the waste.”

The county has to amend its policy because the state requires that half of all solid waste must be put into use or be recycled by 2015. “That’s going to be difficult (to accomplish),” said Wood.

Some relief in having to meet that goal comes from the economy: The amount of trash that goes through the county’s system normally drops when economic conditions worsen. Wood said 900,000 tons of trash was collected by the county in 2007. Two years later, he said that number fell to 749,400 tons. Still, DPW is on track to meet that goal. About 48 percent of the trash collected today goes to a landfill, which means the majority of the trash doesn’t, and that’s good because Wood said it’s difficult to get a new landfill approved today.

Wood said the changes to the county’s policy will ensure that the DPW has long-term disposal capacity, and that recycling and other options will remain available; will expand the service area for the waste-to-energy facility to accept institutional waste; and will have an enforceable mechanism, which is required by state law. He said the amendments are consistent with the solid waste policy the state initiated five years ago.

Wood said the county’s new recycling center has proven to be a success, despite the MWIA claim that it hasn’t lived up to its promise. In its first full year, he said the center recycled 24,000 tons — twice the tonnage of the old facility. He also said the trash collected by the Grand Rapids recycling program has increased by 42 percent since the new center began operating.

The public hearing will be held Wednesday at the Kent County Road Commission office, 1500 Scribner NW, beginning at 7 p.m.

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