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Walla Walla leaders take on trash planning

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The entrance to the city of Walla Walla's Sudbury Landfill northwest of town.

Walla Walla city leaders are planning for how to manage waste in the future and whether that means continuing landfill operations or looking elsewhere for services.

The city’s Sudbury Landfill is approaching 2.5 million megagrams of solid waste. Exceeding that threshold will trigger air quality monitoring requirements and add expenses. There is 10 years of permitted capacity remaining.

Public Works Director Ki Bealey presented to City Council at a work session last week the questions and requirements the city is faced with and proposed having an alternatives analysis completed by a third-party consultant.

The analysis will determine what options are feasible, including expanded capacity at the current landfill and meeting those added air quality monitoring requirements or operating a transfer station and sending the garbage elsewhere.

The planning will also involve the surrounding cities of College Place, Waitsburg and Prescott as well as Walla Walla County and unincorporated areas.

A transfer station would mean construction of a receiving facility to put the trash in trucks and take it to a larger facility and would stop landfill activities.

Bealey proposed city staff look at alternatives, which was done in 2011.

“Taking that work from 2011, updating it, making sure that we are still on track, that we want to continue to landfill, that it makes the most sense for the community, and once that’s done then we move into the more facilities planning type of approach for solid waste management,” he said.

When Mayor Tom Scribner asked Bealey at the work session if the biggest consideration would be based on economics, Bealey suggested the consultant look at the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions as well.

“We need to be considering something other than just the financial because it’s a changing world,” Bealey said. “You have to weigh all of those factors in to decide from a policy standpoint how do we want to decide our future for how solid waste is handled in our county?”

The Solid Waste Advisory Committee signed off on the analysis, and so did Walla Walla County leaders.

The next steps in the process are to finalize the requests for proposals to qualified consultants, advertise, go through the selection process and negotiate a contract for the alternatives analysis, Bealey said.

He will come to Council multiple times with contracts for the planning process. The analysis is expected to start this fall and be completed by winter.

“We’re just kind of trying to make sure that we’re looking at all of our alternatives and trying to do what’s best for the community in the long term, and again we’re talking really long term here because if we invest in a new area, you’re talking 20-30 years worth of waste going there for that investment,” he said.

The alternatives analysis is estimated to cost around $20,000 to $30,000 and will be paid for by the city, but this is only the first step in several. The next is to create a regulatory required solid waste management plan.

Surrounding cities and Walla Walla County may participate in the planning and financials of this plan based on population participation for cost-share as they did for the last plan in 2013-2014. Leaders in those communities also must adopt the plan.

Bealey said recycling will be a piece of the overall solid waste management because it is a part of the waste stream that has to be factored.

An ad hoc committee was formed earlier this year to bring forth some recommendations to Council for how to handle recycling as costs to recycle were rising and contamination restrictions became more of an issue nationwide.

Currently, recycling is not going to, nor proposed to go to, the landfill, he said. The committee is still working through recommendations.

A landfill master plan comes next in solid waste planning, if city leaders do determine to continue using Sudbury. They will plan for the next 20-50 years for facilities at the landfill.

They will then review a closure, post-closure and financial insurance plan.

“Ultimately, you have to plan to close the largest active area,” Bealey said.

That includes the costs associated with closing that area and taking care of it until it reaches a stable point in the future, which is at least 30 years.

The operations and maintenance plan must then be reviewed.

“It’s a lot more than a hole in the ground that you put trash in. There is a whole lot more involved in solid waste management than that,” he said.

Chloe LeValley can be reached at chloelevalley@wwub.com or 509-526-8326.

Chloe LeValley covers the cities of Walla Walla and College Place as well as agriculture and the environment in the Walla Walla Valley. She is a graduate of San Francisco State University and joined the Union-Bulletin's team in October 2019.