Waste-to-Energy and Solid Waste Press Event Transcript

EDITORS NOTE: On Tuesday, July 8th, the press and public were invited to a press conference by Jan Gardner, on the topic of Waste-to-Energy, long-term planning for solid waste for Frederick County, and transparency in the public process. The following is the transcript of her remarks.


gardnerpressconf500

Good morning. Thank you for attending.

I am holding this press conference for three purposes:

    1. To clarify my position on WTE

    2. To share information about the RFP’s or requests for proposal the county has issued through the Authority on solid waste issues to add transparency to the process, and to ensure citizens right to know

    3. Discuss next steps

Position:

The issue of construction a Waste to Energy facility in Frederick County for the purpose of dealing with our community’s trash has been high contentious. People of good will on both sides of the issue have engaged in an extended public debate that has sometimes become very divisive. The good news is that people care about our community and want to do the “right thing” and make the best choice for this place we call home.

During my term as President of the Board of County Commissioners, the majority of the Board, after a long debate and public process, decided to move forward in partnership with Carroll County to build a waste-to-energy facility or incinerator. I supported the technology, but ultimately did not vote for the project because I disagreed with the selected location near the Monocacy Battlefield and in our prime business development corridor. I did and still do respect the decision of the commissioners who made a choice they thought was best for the community.

Circumstances have changed.

    • We no longer have a partner due to Carroll County’s decision to with draw from the project. Frederick County was never in a financial position to construct the incinerator without a reliable financial partner. The project can’t proceed without a partner. And, we know Frederick County and the authority have been looking for a replacement partner, and there are reports of discussions with Prince George’s County and Washington DC, though little has been publicly disclosed.

    • More significant is the change in the financials, with the cost of WTE increasing and the cost of utilizing out of state landfills decreasing.

    • No new financial analysis or really no new public information has been released since I left office in 2010.

      * However, I reviewed the financials completed in 2009, which assumed the county would go operational with WTE in 2015. The cost comparison showed WTE vs. transferring and land filling in out of state landfills what remained after recycling. The cost of WTE was actually more in the early years of operation vs. transferring and land filling, but showed savings over the life of the project based on certain assumptions.

      * We now know that the projected costs for 2015 provided in 2009 are not even close the actual costs experienced today in 2014 or for the 2014/2015 budget year. Projected costs predicted that out of county transfer and land filling would cost between $12 to $13 million a year depending upon certain assumptions. Current actual costs have come in significantly lower with the county currently paying about $7 million annually for out of county transfer and land filling. Actuals vs. projections creates a $5 to $6 million gap with WTE costing $5 to $6 million a year more than transferring and land filling our of state. Even without updated financials, it will be hard to close the cost differential. At this point in time, transferring our waste to out of county landfills is significantly less expensive than WTE and requires no capital cost investment.

      * The cost of WTE has also gone up due to lower revenue from the sale of electricity and the higher cost of regulatory compliance.

      * WTE simply presents too many financial risks. What we have learned is that projecting the costs for solid waste is very difficult and the costs are volatile.

      * The financials simply do not work and the risk is too high.

      * The county should seize the opportunity to exit the project since they can do so without financial penalty or financial cost.

While my comments focus on the financials, I do not want to diminish environmental concerns. There are clearly environmental issues with WTE (including air emissions – dioxins, mercury, and particulate matter), and there are also environmental issues with using a landfill (methane gas – a worse green house gas – and other air emissions and ground water contamination). Some of these environmental issues can be mitigated but not fully eliminated. That is why reducing our waste stream through recycling, re-use, diversion, composting, and other methods is so important no matter how we decide, as a community, to dispose of what remains.

Solid waste disposal is expensive.

Solid waste disposal involves toxins because our community disposes of toxic materials.

Solid waste disposal also must consider disposal of sludge from our waste water treatment plants, which is often put into landfills.

The cost of solid waste is also subject to public policy decisions and this is seldom fairly discussed. Public policy can influence our choice and can change the cost of the choices by adding surcharges to choices government wants to discourage and financial support for choices the government wants to encourage.

The State (MDE) has issues a Zero Waste Policy or Plan that will likely influence choices – mandating higher recycling rates and discouraging use of land fills. Mandates to institute composting in our institutions – schools, universities, hospitals and other food vendors – are likely looming on the horizon. Regional composting facilities will influence the mix and costs. Federal policy on air emissions may also influence choices and costs.

Public policy influences on how solid waste is handled and disposed was not fully considered in the financial analysis and it is simply hard to predict.

While we many not know what will change, we do know that there will be changes in both public policy and solid waste markets that will keep prices and costs volatile.

For all these reasons, I believe that the incinerator project is now a dead issue and that we need to proceed with all deliberate speed in charting a new plan of action to deal with our solid waste disposal. The decisions that we make in addressing this issue impact the quality of life we have in Frederick County.

We must have a public and transparent process that engages interested citizens and all the stakeholders.

Without transparency, there is a lack of trust in government. I have always believed and practiced open and transparent government and citizen’s right to be heard.

Thus, I want to share and publicly speak to what the county and authority are evaluating right now without a transparent and open process, and without broad public knowledge.

Requests for Proposal

With absolutely no public discussion, the county commissioners, through the Authority, have issued three requests for proposal (including one with two subset options)

These RFPs were issued on April 23 with no public discussion, no public knowledge or disclosure, and on the day after Carroll County officially withdrew from the project. Clearly, there was behind-the-scenes planning and discussion.

Thus, I want to make sure the public knows that the county and authority have solicited bids or proposal for as options. And that five bids have been received, though it is not known which options, or if all options received bids.

The requests for proposal include:

    1. Proposals for Transport and Disposal of the county waste from the Transfer Station on Reich’s Ford Road, with the bidder arranging the disposal site as well as a back-up and contingency. This essentially continues the county’s current practice. The County’s current bid for transfer and disposal to out of state landfills will expire in 2015.

      a. This contract has two options: A and B. These options seek proposals for a “trash for ash swap” and for bidders (likely trash haulers) to bring trash to the proposed Frederick County Waste-to-Energy Facility, but do not specify from where or limit from where.

      b. This means haulers could propose to bring trash from out of state to utilize the available capacity (due to Carroll County’s departure) in Frederick County’s proposed Waste-to-Energy facility. And it means the County could receive trash from other counties, other states, the District of Columbia etc. This is very different than accepting trash under an agreement with a neighboring Maryland County. Citizens should be aware that this possibility is under consideration and have a right to know that the county is considering importing trash from other unspecified locations in the region.

    2. Transfer Station Operation: This contract seeks proposals for the operation of the existing County Transfer Station, including maintenance of all equipment, rolling stock and using bidders’ staff. This is essentially seeking proposals to privatize the county transfer station.

    3. This request seeks proposals to accept Frederick County’s waste at another regional Waste-to-Energy Facility, with the county getting credit for the renewable energy created. This is an interesting proposal because prior Boards were repeatedly told there was no available regional WTE capacity. So, what changed? There is a private sector (Covanta) operated WTE facility in Fairfax, VA. They now have capacity because some of their contract users have not renewed their contracts because they have shifted to lower cost landfill options. The Lancaster Authority has purchased the Harrisburg PA incinerator and they do have some capacity. Because the State of Pennsylvania has decided to subsidize a portion of the cost of the Harrisburg incinerator, they are looking for waste.

      a. Frederick County citizens have a right to know that this option is under consideration.

The lack of public disclosure and public debate creates an environment of distrust. I am concerned that the county commissioners, as they have in other instances, will simply announce that they have signed a contract for one or a combination of these options.

Citizens have a right to be heard and have a right to know what their government is doing.

In my opinion, county citizens should know that the county is opening its doors to accept out of state trash to replace Carroll County? Do residents want to take trash from Pennsylvania, West Virginia, DC, or Virginia? This is very different than working in partnership with one other Maryland county. Do Frederick County residents want to open their door to out of state trash for many years? How long are these potential contracts?

Do we want to send our waste to another incinerator? Do we want Frederick County to sign on with the Lancaster Authority to take waste to the Harrisburg incinerator? Or to utilize the Covanta facility in Fairfax County?

Will there be an independent financial analysis of all the options?

There will likely be a mix of public opinion. Citizens should have had the opportunity to debate these issues in advance of the requests for proposal being issued. There may be other options that should also be put out to bid, such as a resource recovery park, a pilot composting project or a regional composting project, etc.

Frederick County residents have a right to be heard. Frederick County residents have a right to be involved in the decision making process. Citizens must demand that the County Commissioners engage them in these discussions. This should have happened before formal requests were issued without public review.

Next Steps:

The decision that we make will impact our quality of life. We must proceed in a deliberate manner with a public process.

Part of the solution may be to build a resource recovery park or to partner with Carroll County in their effort to do so. This is not an option under consideration with the current group of RFPs that have been issued.

The Gardner Administration will do the following:

End the WTE contract. Take advantage of the opportunity to exit without cost.

Negotiate a new transfer/out of state landfill contract, since the county contract is coming to an end in 2015, and take advantage of current low costs. This should be a five year contract since any new option will take time to evaluate and permit.

    1) Guarantee a public, open and transparent process to evaluate options.

      a. This is an issue of great public interest.
      b. Citizens have a right to be heard.
      c. Build public support and public trust.

    2) Create a stakeholder group to define the options.

      a. Utilize the expertise we have in our community and region.
      b. Put the best minds and best expertise to the task.
      c. Consider all the ideas, including a resource recovery park and including partnering with Carroll County as they evaluate this option.
      d. Require public meetings and opportunity for public input.

    3) Commission a study and/or RFPs to evaluate and price the options.

      a. Evaluate environmental impacts, financial costs, and long-term sustainability.
      b. Consider public policy impacts on the options.
      c. Need for flexibility.

It is time to move forward and it is time to move forward in an open and transparent way that will garner public support and public trust.