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County may terminate solid waste services with Turlock
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Pending on agreement negotiations, the Stanislaus County Environmental Services Department may terminate the Waste Reduction and Recycling Program services agreement with the City of Turlock come August, bringing an end to several key programs and services relating to solid waste.

Last summer, the Turlock City Council voted to direct Turlock Scavenger – the city’s primary waste management company – to send waste to the Merced Regional Waste Authority as part of a 120-day trial. The decision, which was made in an attempt to reduce costs, may have serious implications for the County’s entire solid waste system, say multiple county officials.

On Tuesday, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors voted to authorize a termination of the memorandum of understanding between the City of Turlock and the County for such services, should the two be unable to reach an agreement by Aug. 12.

City Manager Roy Wasden says that although Turlock has not finalized an agreement with Merced, the contract would be for 15 years should the City opt to leave the Stanislaus system.

“We’re currently taking our garbage to Merced on a temporary basis,” said Wasden. “We’ll be talking with the county and working with them to see if we can reach an agreement. If not, then we’ll do a long term agreement with Merced.”

According to the Stanislaus Environmental Services Department, the discontinued services from the City of Turlock would result in a corresponding reduction in staffing impacts and the costs to purchase goods such as educational materials and advertising. More importantly, says County Director of Environmental Services Jami Aggers, the additional costs would be shifted to the remaining jurisdictions in the county.

“We have to deliver 243,000 tons to the waste-to-energy facility, and within that there’s a monthly total requirement,” said Aggers. “In November, because Turlock had not participated, we were unable to meet the obligation which resulted in a penalty that had to be paid for by the City of Modesto and Stanislaus County.”

Jocelyn Reed, solid waste manager for the City of Modesto, said that the November penalty was due to an 800-ton shortage.

“Since Turlock left, Modesto has picked up most of the extra tons that are required, where we can,” said Reed. “In November, we were short on garbage…We have directed our haulers to pick up the slack, but it was still short. It was a bit of money that we ended up paying, for garbage that we didn’t dispose of…We are meeting the requirements pretty much, but it’s going to be increasingly difficult, and quite frankly I don’t understand why Turlock is pursuing this option.”

In the long run, Reed says, Turlock’s decision to pull out of the system could hurt their diversion requirements, as California law mandates a 50 percent diversion requirement from each city. The requirement, which will soon increase to 75 percent under Assembly Bill 939, demands each city within the state to divert 50 percent of their solid waste out of landfills to renewable energy facilities. In addition to several services, participating jurisdictions in the County are given a 10 percent diversion credit to go towards their 50 percent requirement — a security that Reed says is critical to meeting the mandate.

“From a solid waste management standpoint, they’re not going to be able to meet their diversion state mandate required to reduce our disposal in landfills,” said Reed. “All the garbage that they are taking away from our waste-to-energy plant is now going to a landfill, and at some point the state is going to say that they cannot claim waste-energy credit anymore, because that’s not where their garbage is going…I don’t think Turlock is factoring in the new laws, or preparing a plan on how they’re going to implement that law when it increases to 75 percent. It doesn’t seem like all of those implications have been flushed out and explained to the decision makers in Turlock. Their staff needs to take a hard look at their long-haul goals because participating in the waste-to-energy project is good for everybody in the county.”

Additionally, Reed says, the waste-to-energy facility produces nearly 20 megawatts of power, or roughly the amount it takes to power 20,000 houses. From an environmental standpoint, Reed believes that Turlock’s lack of participation would mean producing decreased amounts of renewable energy and clean electric power, while also adding more waste to local landfills.

According to Wasden, the City initially decided to move their waste to the Merced landfill after Stanislaus increased their disposal fees at the Waste to Energy facility from $28 per ton to $39 per ton, in addition to a $33 per ton tipping fee at the Fink landfill. Furthermore, says Wasden, the County would require Turlock to commit 30,000 tons of waste to the Waste-to-Energy facility — nearly 75 percent of the city’s total annual waste.

“Having to take 30,000 is a vast majority that we would have to commit to waste-to-energy,” said Wasden. “The reason for concern is that it costs the most. The premium is almost $500,000 above that of Merced, so that’s what we’re exploring now.”

Should the City of Turlock enter an agreement with the Merced landfill, which requires a tipping fee of $18 per ton, Wasden says the City could avoid having to raise ratepayer fees.

“The County obviously wants us to stay with them, but if it is better with Merced for our ratepayers, who bear the tipping fee costs, then we’re going to choose the option that is most equitable to the residents of Turlock,” said Wasden. “When the County costs go up, ratepayer fees have to be increased, as Turlock Scavenger would have to adjust what they charge.”

While pulling out of the system may save Turlock residents and the City money, a number of state mandated services would be discontinued, including the Household Hazardous Waste Management program the City is currently provided with through the County. Still being required by state law to have such a program, the City proposed paying Stanislaus County for the individual program and others, which was rejected by county officials.

“What we explained to Turlock is that you can’t just use an ‘a la carte’ approach,” said Aggers. “You can’t just pick and choose from the programs that we provide; you need to also support the infrastructure.”

Being part of the entire solid waste service program has allowed the City of Turlock to receive funds for implementing vital programs such as the Household Hazardous Waste Management program, which would come to a halt should the City enter an agreement with Merced. Turlock’s proposal to pay for the individual program, Wasden says, would result in revenue of $225,000 which would be more than adequate to cover AB 939 and household hazardous waste expenses.

“The state requires every city to provide that service, which is paid for by the tipping fees,” said Reed. “Turlock won’t get that money anymore if they’re not participating, and therefore won’t have a state-required program. They will have to fund and build their own household hazardous waste program, along with several other programs which will all add up…I know they talked about contracting with County for that specific program, but that’s not fair to everybody else and the taxpayers who would have to subsidize a city that’s not even participating…Don’t pick and choose. Help us meet our goals as a venture, or figure out your own.”

Although both Aggers and Reed have claimed that Turlock leaving the system puts a significant strain on the entire solid waste system, and that without Turlock’s tipping fees, the County will be unable to cover the costs of AB 939 related activities, Wasden testified to the Board of Supervisors that this was factually incorrect.

According to Wasden, from 2008 to 2012, the City of Turlock pulled 1 percent of its waste outside of the county for 309 tons, while the contracting communities, Modesto and Stanislaus County, hauled 28 percent out of the county.

“Turlock has fully funded the activities the County provides Turlock under the Memorandum of Understanding,” said Wasden. “Turlock has no intention of negatively impacting other agencies and is willing to cover its fair share of the costs…Our average total tonnage each year is about half of what Modesto and the County exported out of the County. So to say that us pulling out is going to break the system doesn’t make sense, when they haul more garbage out of the county than we even produce. It’s hard to make it credible that we’ll break the system.”

The City of Turlock and County will continue their negotiations over the coming months, however, Wasden says that it “seems clear that the County has rejected the City’s various proposals and is intent on terminating the memorandum of understanding.”

“Turlock is capable of diverting the percentage required without using waste-to-energy, and will continue to make our credit available to those cities that have a hard time meeting the 50 percent diversion,” said Wasden. “Regardless of what happens, we don’t have any intention to end working with them, and our diversion is available to help them. We’ll see if we can reach an agreement, but will ultimately go with the direct flow that is most equitable to the residents of Turlock.”