At its May 18 special meeting, the Pocahontas County Solid Waste Authority (SWA) offered transparency to the public about its financial problems.
The meeting was held in the circuit courtroom with about 25 citizens in attendance, plus several more attending virtually on Zoom Meeting.
County SWA Chairman Ed Riley opened the meeting then turned it over to Mark Holstine, who is the Executive Director of the West Virginia Solid Waste Management Board.
Holstine provided a brief history of Solid Waste Authorities in West Virginia, saying that they were established by the state legislature in 1989, at which time the Pocahontas County SWA was formed and took control over the county’s solid waste management from the county commission.
He said the county’s 43-acre landfill and green box program had already been established in 1986, however the commission stopped funding them when the SWA became active here in 1989. The commission still appoints two of the five members on the SWA Board with the WV Department of Environmental Protection; the local Soil Conservation District; and the West Virginia Public Service Commission each appointing one member.
Holstine said the current tipping fee at the landfill is $72.75 and the new current green box annual fee is $115, the latter having just been raised from $107 per year at the last meeting. He explained that the landfill receives about 7,400 tons of waste per year, which makes it the smallest landfill in the state. The landfill is leased, and that lease is valid until 2033. Holstine said the estimated remaining landfill life is only four more years, and there is no additional land available to expand.
He explained there a state-controlled escrow account is set up to pay for the $1.8 million that will eventually be needed to close and remediate the landfill. That account is funded by depositing $5.95 per ton from the tipping fee, and currently has $1.2 million in it.
Regarding the financial issues the county SWA faces, Holstine said that to raise the tipping fee enough to cover the nearly $100,000 annual loss, would make the landfill unable to compete with the lower tipping fees at other area landfills. Doing so would most likely cause the loss of one of their major income sources – large commercial trash haulers, who would go to other lower cost landfills, such as Greenbrier County, Nicholas County, Tucker County or Tygart’s Valley.
Holstine said the county SWA has only three sources of income:
• Tipping fees of $350,000 per year.
• Green Box fees of $470,000 per year
• $35,000 from the State Solid Waste Management Board.
Another financial drain on the SWA in the county, he said, are the losses they experience from their recycling program because it costs far more to run that program than the income it produces. Holstine said this is a statewide issue since the market for recyclables is extremely low, but the recycling loss in Pocahontas County is made worse because of losses due to theft, such as the recycling trailer from the Caesar Mountain green box site and of the gate at the Marlinton site; as well as vandalism and stolen parts from recycling trailers over the years.
Holstine said he has no easy answers to the financial problems, citing three possible solutions:
1. Continue landfill operations somehow. But doing this will continue the loss of money unless they purchase additional land, which would require a new permit that takes several years to obtain and is expensive, and will continue to lose money.
2. Construct and operate a transfer station, which will also involve purchasing additional land, obtaining a new permit, and is even more expensive to operate.
3. Do away with use of the landfill, and only haul residential trash from the green boxes to the Lewisburg landfill, and pay their tipping fee. Besides being expensive to do this, it will cost them the income from commercial trash customers, dramatically raise the green box fees, and risk having people dump their trash all over the county – literally throwing it over the hill.
The SWA board voted to have Holstine oversee a volunteer work group of citizens and other stakeholders to try and find additional innovative solutions to the SWA’s financial crisis.
Holstine asked citizens to sign up as volunteers for this work group, which will analyze the existing program to possibly increase its effectiveness and cost efficiency; search for alternative income sources; and suggest other sensible solutions which will work for the good of the citizens.