08.29.07

What’s Next For The Williamson County Landfill?

Posted in Commentary, Commissioners Court, Landfill, Williamson County at 4:08 pm by wcnews

As interested parties wait on the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) to rule on Waste Management, Inc.’s expansion permit for the landfill, it’s time to explore where the landfill issue goes from here. From this Hutto News article, County tables landfill contract indefinitely, it’s clear that Precinct 4 County Commissioner Ron Morrison, in whose precinct the landfill resides, is attempting to set the timetable for the future of the landfill contract:

There’s much more. Click “Read the rest of this entry” for full story.

“I would like to see the result of the permit hearing before I put my name on this,” he said.

Testimony before the State Office of Administrative Hearings will conclude Friday, but a recommendation by the court may not come until the end of the year.

Clearly this is the correct way to proceed. Morrison was joined by Commissioner’s Covey and Long initially and Commissioner Birkman ultimately too, although begrudgingly. Those four should all be thanked for voting against this contract. It’s interesting wording that all the hearing will produce is a “recommendation” – implies non-binding – and that recommendation may not come for months. It gives both sides more time to hone their arguments and spread the word. Hopefully this was a deal that needed darkness and speed to get done and now that it’s been exposed to sunlight and been slowed down it will wilt under the heat. Keep in my though, the contract has ONLY been delayed and NOT stopped.

Here’s what Judge Gattis and Commissioner Birkman had to say about yesterday’s vote.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman originally urged the court to make a decision quickly, saying contract negotiations with Waste Management may not continue and the county would be stuck with the 2003 contract, universally acknowledged as a poor deal for the county.

However, when a vote came, Birkman sided with the majority and the contract was tabled.

“This is a cancer affecting the community, and we need to move on,” said County Judge Dan Gattis, who was the sole dissenting vote on the motion to table.

Speed over prudence is never a good decision making process for an elected official. And exactly what is the cancer that Judge Gattis is speaking of? If citizens seeking an open contracting process in order to hold their elected officials accountable is considered a cancer, then somebody’s in the wrong line of work.

There has long been consensus that the 2003 contract was a bad deal. Where the citizens and the county government have clashed is regarding whether to replace it with a better contract or one that may be worse, in the long-run, than the 2003 contract. While the contract was better financially than the previous one, it was lacking as compared to similar deals reached recently by other cities and counties. Allowing WMI to stay as the operator, or permittee, would have given them the ability to run the landfill as they chose, with the county being nothing more than a interested party.

This ruling should not end the process of getting a new landfill contract, because that is still much needed, but should be the impetus to start a new process, with open/competitive bidding, for a new landfill contract in the county. A contract where the county is the sole operator/permitee, with citizen involvement from the beginning. (For more recommendations read What HCG is asking. [.PDF])

While that is the hope there’s still significant opposition to moving forward with a contract in any other manner than with WMI and WMI alone. Again Birkman:

Birkman, before issuing her vote, said by tabling the contract, the county would still not be able to put the contract out to bid because landfill operations now revert to the 2003 agreement.

Waste Management will continue negotiations when the county sees fit, said regional manager Steve Jacobs. He agreed the term of the contract will likely be discussed but said the company was firm on having the contract last 40 years to recoup their investment.

The county is able to “put the contract out to bid” and if it did could easily get much better terms in a new contract. Who knows, WMI may even come up with the winning bid.

While that would be ideal there’s still the possibility that once the SOAH recommendation comes down another contract is agreed to with WMI, in a similar fashion, and the court votes to approve it. That’s being said to remind everyone that this is not over.

1 Comment »

  1. Eye on Williamson » Remember The Williamson County Landfill, It’s Back said,

    October 17, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    [...] quick review. The vote on a new contract for the landfill had been delayed pending the outcome a hearing regarding the expansion permit for the landfill. The Commissioners Court passed a resolution [...]

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