By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
With three new members; Diane Hinkle, Dennis Filler, and Chris Lowther on board, the Solid Waste Authority came together for a meeting on Tuesday, January 21. Presiding Chair and Executive Director of the Solid Waste Management Mark Holstine called the meeting to order with all board members present, as well as some guests. First to address was the approval of previous meeting minutes which included the October 1 and third special board meeting with all in approval and Hinkle abstaining. Minutes from the October 26 regular meeting, December 13 and 19 special meeting minutes were also approved. It was noted there were so many gatherings due to issues having enough in attendance for a quorum.
Holstine clarified the positions expected by those serving on this board in lieu of the supercedure by the Solid Waste Management. Office Manager Carol Helmick gave a report regarding all financials pertaining to the Tucker County Landfill. She began by bringing attention to the fact that the December tonnage total was down nearly 300 ton from the previous month. “December usually is our slowest month,” she said, though it wasn’t through a loss of customers just less waste brought in. The amount of leachate has increased due to the amount of rain received, requiring 34 loads being hauled to Moorefield and 27 loads to Westernport, Md, equaling a total of 412,482 gallons of leachate. Holstine shared his concern over the drop of tonnage, which is typical for winter; however it came a month earlier than the previous trend. “We are concerned with the tonnage, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it,” he said. Pertaining to the leachate, outside of capital outlay, the leachate cost is the biggest expenditure for the facility.
Helmick continued with accounts receivable, noting several delinquent accounts have been received with only a few left outstanding. The situation with Preston Sanitation being bought out was briefly discussed regarding their delinquent account with a 10% onetime interest fee. Kelly Goes, a representative from Jackson Kelly Law Firm, briefed the board on potential avenues this issue could lead. Holstine has met with Sunrise Sanitation, buyers of Preston Sanitation, which he felt went well.
Accounts payable followed which Helmick mentioned were slowly being paid down, partially because four employees are no longer with the landfill. Lowther asked if the landfill was still in good standing with a contractor who assists with maintenance and repairs as needed when he was informed they are on a pay as you go agreement.
The income statement was then reviewed noting it was down in December due to the shortage of incoming tonnage. Balance sheets were discussed as the new board members became familiar with the expenditures and such associated with the business of the landfill. When looking at the overall amount, Holstine brought attention to the $12,000 net loss, stating, “That is a concern.” This is what has lead to the board to submit a rate increase. “We’re running on fumes basically,” Holstine said and leachate is a driving factor in many of their cash flow concerns.
When reviewing all of the financial flow of the facility, Filler noted the leachate volume doesn’t seem to be the issue; it’s the hauling of the product. Hinkle asked why it could no longer be taken to Thomas. Holstine said, “Thomas has issues complying with DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) standards, so that’s an issue between Thomas and the DEP,” he said. “Until that is resolved, we can’t take leachate to Thomas.” Lowther asked if that was being addressed to work towards a resolution, and Holstine replied, “You’d have to ask the Mayor of Thomas.”
Continuing with the topic of leachate, Filler noticed a larger amount used to be prevalent at the landfill and is curious as to why the amount has differed so much. It was explained that the cells have not been draining properly due to improper placement of trash which is not generating the runoff like it should be. This leads to a lot of seeps which are being corrected through a trenching project and the initial line plan being “undone” causing major issues. Holstine stated if they succeed in getting the leachate to drain properly, there will be a noticeable difference in the amount produced. While this is a positive factor, it also poses the issue of leading to an increase in the leachate disposal which will require additional hauling trips. “There’s a myriad of issues we can talk about that we’re trying to address,” he added.
Hinkle asked for further explanation about the elevation cap that had been recently removed. She was told the garbage can go approximately 60 feet higher if they can fix the barrier drainage issue. This problem is because the former director knew the elevation of the mountain was nearing maximum height. Therefore, a heavy clay and soil cap was placed which is resulting in even further drainage issues that must be rectified before continuing to add garbage.
Holstine laid out the root of a lot of the problems the landfill is facing. “Basically what has happened here is money was expended to build the next cell on not building the next cell. OK, so the money that was put aside to do that was spent on something else.” This is what lead to the state coming in to do performance reviews and discovered the many issues with the landfill. At the time of the state taking control, with the elevation cap in place the facility was facing potential closure for lack of airspace and no additional cell prepared. This lead to the petition submitted to the DEP to remove the cap, which Tucker County was the only landfill in the state to have this stipulation in place, to prevent facility closure.
Moving on, the board reviewed the check register and monthly statements. Holstine informed the facility will be switching to State P Cards this month for future purchases which offers state financial incentives for using. “You have to have a strong day to day management,” he added. Some payments were questioned by the new members for clarification, which they received. John Nock, Landfill Manager, noted his efforts in cleaning up the garage and storage areas to gain a detailed inventory of items owned by the landfill so to prevent future duplicate purchases, which a history of such has happened. At the conclusion of the register and statement review, Filler noted a $12,000 net loss in the month of December, which is obviously an item of concern.
A directors report followed with information provided to the board members in their packets. He mentioned the PSC investigation that is ongoing and noted the request for an extension for more time for the new board to properly evaluate the investigation. Attorney Goes brought up an insurance claim has been filed to make the company aware of the ongoing investigation and issues with the landfill to see if they had interest in providing council in the matter. Holstine recapped again what lead to the investigation to ensure clarity, with the approximate total spent out of the account of $930,000 without complying with the PSC. The financial institution, Miners and Merchants Bank, is also involved in this investigation due to their release of funds without PSC approval as per their agreement. Holstine feels the money was spent internally and the former board had to be aware of the illegal spending. Documentation has been compiled of where they believe the money has been spent. County Commissioner Fred Davis stated, “This is going to be an ongoing thing for a while.”
New business began with approval of Jackson and Kelly representing the SWA board in front of the PSC. Bowls Rice will be representing the SWA in matters pertaining to the request for a rate increase. It is hopeful the insurance company will also provide representation with the West Virginia County Risk Poole. Goes is concerned with the dispute with the bank with questions like who requested the money, who authorized the checks, and where did the money go.
Unfinished business was to revisit discontinuing a construction and demolition (CD) rate that is actually not even included in the landfill tariff. The regulations for proper disposal of CD materials are less; however, it usually leads to a specific cell to dispose of such. This leads to a lesser fee for these materials, however at Tucker County Landfill the CD waste and the municipal solid waste (MSW) are being disposed of together. The cost of properly processing MSW is higher, which is why the intake rate is higher, however the CD waste does not compact well and is taking up significant space with less income. This may require a decision by the new board to remove the acceptance of CD waste at a reduced rate. The rate as stand was voted on and approved by the former WA board, however the PSC never approved. It is evident some contractors will be upset with the elimination of accepting CD materials at this reduced rate, but with no dedicated CD cell, it needs addressed. If the board chooses to keep the CD rate, it needs added into the tariff with the PSC, though the board requests a cost analysis regarding the CD waste at the current rate versus the loss it is bringing to the facility.
Pertaining to the request for a rate increase, it was proposed to increase the fee by $5.80 per ton taking the total to $53.30 per ton. Of that $5.80 increase, $3 would be used to repay the loan they are requesting access to prematurely that is set aside for closing the facility, and $2.80 for operational costs. The proposed agreement is to repay the loan over a 10 year period, during which time the Solid Waste Management would remain in managerial control of the landfill. “That is a big ask,” said Holstine. “This is definitely not something that has been done in the past,” and the likelihood of it being extended again would be minimal. Holstine has met with the DEP and PSC, who control this account of around $2.2 million, regarding this possibility with no definitive response, however he did say, “The best I can do is tell you all the meetings have been positive.” He continued, “It is crucial to the financial survival of this facility that we be allowed to access those funds. If the answer to that question is no, and it is their purview to tell us no, then we will be looking at closure of the facility in the not so distant future.” $32,000 per month is already being spent on the two loans the facility holds, approximately $400,000 to the Solid Waste Management Board and $1.9 million to Grant County Bank. They are also requesting 0% interest on this ten year potential loan. Goes expressed concern over the debt to equity ratio, which she stated is “upside down.” Holstine also is concerned the $2.2 million in the closure account is not enough to close the facility as it currently is if that were to be the end result.
Public and guest comments were addressed with a representative from the DEP Youth Environmental Program offering information for the recycling education for youth. She talked about the Junior Conservation Camps that commence late June in Ripley and a Fall Teen Conference which offers approximately $15,000 in cash prizes. Next was discussion regarding the potential effect on the landfill from the recycling program through Sunrise Sanitation. This program will be coming to an end as of February 1 for all items except aluminum and cardboard. Hinkle asked how one could help, unfortunately there’s little anyone can do due to the economics driving this decision as Filler explained. Holstine expressed concern over the before recycled products now coming into the landfill that is already on limited space, though it is understood with the collapse of the recycling market. Fortunately, his staff performs marketing development research that may be helpful to find alternative sources for our local recyclables.
Sam Eichleberger spoke briefly saying he’s been concerned with the status of the landfill for approximately two and a half years. He shared his experience with how the facility used to be versus how it has become and is eager to see the landfill turn around and come back from this devastation.
The next meeting will be on Monday, February 24 at 3 p.m. These are open, public meetings that take place in the office building behind the scale house at the landfill entrance.