OPINION: Process for North Valley Landfill should be transparent

Screen shot of a 360 degree panorama of the site chosen for a new landfill in Cache County.

Last week the Cache County Planning and Zoning Commission received public comment regarding the application for a conditional use permit for the proposed North Valley Landfill. Solid waste management is not an easy issue to deal with and reaching a solution that is pleasing to everyone is nearly impossible.

It is clear that there are many factors that must be included in any decision regarding approval of a conditional use permit for a landfill, particularly one this large and this remote. Truly, I believe that this issue is worthy of a dedicated meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission where all of the issues may be more completely aired. It would be my hope that such a meeting will be scheduled.

Even though I am a resident of Clarkston, and my home is on the state road and will be directly impacted by the increased truck traffic, my issues with the proposed landfill are not related to a “not in my backyard” attitude. I am more concerned with transparency of government action, potential costs of construction, maintenance and operation of the landfill and potential impacts on collection fees (taxes paid to Logan) and county road taxes.

In the letter from Rep. Ronda Menlove that was read during the public comment period, the Commission was encouraged to require Logan City and Cache County to contract with UDOT to perform a transportation study. This study would be more comprehensive than the information presented by JUB Engineering to the Commission detailing proposed road construction going north from Clarkston to the landfill site. It will cover impacts to existing roads of all jurisdictions along the proposed route (state, county and municipal). It will provide information about required upgrades and improvements to existing roads, along with cost information for the same.

It will also provide evaluation of the proposed construction and should evaluate adequacy of the plans submitted. The adequacy evaluation should include consideration of compatibility of the proposed design and proposed use with existing traffic patterns. Also included would be cost information regarding maintenance of the route year round, specifically winter maintenance. Currently, Logan City has not given the County any indication of what costs will be or who will bear those costs. Currently, UDOT states that the road between Newton and Clarkston is the most expensive stretch of road to keep open in the northern half of Utah during the winter. The additional 5-6 miles of road leading from Clarkston to the proposed landfill site will be potentially more expensive to keep open. Who will pay these additional costs? If Logan City is responsible, citizens of the County can be assured that collection rates will increase. If Cache County is responsible, citizens of the County can be assured that road taxes will increase. Either way, County citizens will bear the burden of a poor location decision.

The issue of cost and potential impact to county residents is not a small one and it should not be overlooked in this process. Logan City is a political subdivision, NOT a private business. Increased scrutiny of financial information is warranted to protect taxpayers. Governmental services should be provided in the most efficient and economical manner possible. We have learned by sad experience that efficiency and economy are difficult to achieve at higher levels of government. This should never be the case at the municipal level, where government is most accessible to the citizenry it purportedly serves.

We live in a conservative county; we do not expect our municipal governments to build lavish offices or other extravagant facilities. We also do not expect them to make a profit off of our taxes or the “service fees” we pay. We should expect complete transparency and full accessibility of financial documents, as well as a competent and honest accounting of how our tax dollars are utilized. We should also expect some return of surplus dollars or at the very least a review and reduction of user fees.

Currently the landfill that serves our county is located within the municipal boundaries of Logan City. It then seems more reasonable that each year Logan City receives approximately $800,000 into their general fund from landfill revenues. Given the amount of revenue that the Logan City Environmental Health Department receives from collection fees, would it be unreasonable for them to transfer that same amount to the Cache County general fund? I would assert that once the primary landfill site is located outside of Logan proper it would be more than reasonable to compensate the County in the same manner. Even if the County and Logan City were both compensated at this level, the Logan City Environmental Health Department would still be bringing in well over $2 million dollars in annual revenues after expenses.

During the public comment at the May 2, 2013 meeting, the Applicant made a comment regarding some of the information presented by the group Concerned Citizens of Cache County. Mr. Barry Meyers had presented information regarding steep slopes located within the proposed landfill development site, as well as portions of county code outlining allowed development in areas with steep slopes. Specifically Cache County code 17.18.020 prohibits development of lands with slopes greater than 30% over 20’ and limits development of lands with slopes between 20 and 30%. The Applicant indicated that in the State permit these slopes were not considered to be a problem and that development of a landfill on this site was acceptable. While these slopes may not be of concern to the State Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste, they are of concern to Cache County. County Code is not subordinate to the State permit and as the Land Use Authority for the County, the Planning and Zoning Commission is in a position to enforce our LOCAL code.

Another issue that was somewhat misrepresented by the Applicant was the idea that this landfill will be developed in small parcels and therefore wildlife impact will be minimal. There is a multi-year wildlife impact study required by the state prior to construction of this landfill. This study should include all areas that will be developed as a result of construction of this landfill. Those areas should include all portions of the transportation route that are currently unpaved and which will see a dramatic increase in traffic once the landfill is in operation.

I would encourage all citizens of Cache County to become familiar with new state landfill siting requirements passed during the 2013 Utah Legislative session in the form of House Bill 357, sponsored by Rep. Ronda Menlove. HB357 requires that a landfill siting authority provide, as part of their application for a permit from the state, a UDOT approved transportation plan and full financial analysis/disclosure including fee impacts. While this legislation does not take effect until July of this year, and applies only to new applications to the State, Logan City would be well served to comply with the new requirements voluntarily as a demonstration of good faith. In my opinion, the likelihood that Logan City will voluntarily submit a UDOT approved transportation plan and complete financial disclosures as required by HB357 is very low. Therefore, I would encourage the Planning and Zoning Commission and the County Council to require submittal of these items prior to approval of the application for the Conditional Use Permit.

Throughout this process the citizens of Cache County have been presented with a variety of moving targets, including: the useful life of the current landfill, the number of trucks traveling each day to the proposed landfill and the proposed routes to the new landfill. These moving targets have been well documented by others and should lead County residents to ask further questions regarding this proposed landfill site, especially questions relating to financial impacts. Perhaps the time has come for the County Council to reassess its contract with Logan City. Perhaps there are private waste haulers that would be willing and able to provide solid waste management services to the communities in the County outside of Logan. Are there others in the County who would support investigating this possibility? If there are, I would encourage you to make your voices heard. If you aren’t ready to take that step, at the very least, take the time to ask yourselves if the proposed North Valley Landfill site is truly the best option. The application for Conditional Use Permit is online and can be viewed at <a href=”http://%20www.cachecounty.org/pz/current/cup/nvl.html” target=”_blank”>http:// www.cachecounty.org/pz/current/cup/nvl.html</a>. There you can review all of the documentation currently available regarding the proposed landfill; you can also read all of the public comments that have been made thus far. Take the time to review the presentation made by Concerned Citizens of Cache Valley, I’m certain many citizens will be surprised by what is presented there, pay special attention to the financial section. Please take the time to submit your comments to the Planning and Zoning Commission also. This can be done by sending them in email form to chris.harrild@cachecounty.org

Lastly, while I appreciate that the Applicant would like to obtain the Conditional Use Permit quickly, I am appalled that he would suggest that the Planning and Zoning Commission neglect their duties by setting a date certain for discontinuation of public comment. I was very grateful for the swift response in the negative to that suggestion. A hasty decision by the Commission and the County Council would be ill advised in this situation and it is encouraging to know that they take this responsibility so seriously.

Sincerely,

Nathan Whiting

Clarkston, UT

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