With a two- to three-year time table counting down and space running out, voters will be asked to approve borrowing up to $12 million to fund a 10-year expansion project of the Central Peninsula Landfill south of Soldotna.
Proposition No. 2, to appear on the Oct. 1 ballot, will ask voters to approve the issuance of general obligation bonds to pay to design, build and equip new solid waste disposal facilities before the current one reaches its capacity, which Kenai Peninsula Borough officials expect sometime between 2004 and 2005.
With the exception of Homer, an estimated 75 percent of the borough population currently uses the landfill, officials said. This number is expected to grow to 98 percent when the Homer landfill goes off line in an estimated five to 12 years.
The project would create two new 10-acre cells designed to meet new federal and state regulations.
The debt for repaying the bonds will be levied against borough property taxes, at the rate of approximately $36.75 per $100,000 of assessed taxable property value, based on values assessed in 2002. Borough finance director Jeff Sinz said this is a worst-case scenario. In a 15-year bond repayment period, the three five-year periods would range from as little as $15.31 to the aforementioned maximum.
But governmental mandates state the expansion must be done -- and done to particular specifications.
"On federal and state requirements, they are very specific," said Solid Waste Director Cathy Mayer.
She said the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Protection Agency require any new or expanded landfills in Alaska to be lined with two feet of a geo-synthetic clay liner, then a high density impermeable liner. Each new landfill also must include systems for collecting and treating gas and leachate -- water passing through the waste.
She said the price tag is based on estimated design projections and would be issued in five-year phases. She said the first bond would most likely be $7 million, to be issued next year, and the second would be issued in 2008 for $5 million.
"It's based on doing the entire $12 million at one time," Mayer said. "That way we don't have to come back to the voters later to ask for another bond. The first (cell) is more expensive, but subsequent development will not be as costly."
Mayer said the borough plans to begin work on the first cell in the fall of 2004, and work will begin on the second cell immediately after the first one is on line. The two cells are expected to extend waste disposal for 10 more years, but she said they could do more.
"I'm very optimistic that we'll be able to get more in there than we're looking at," she said.
The ordinance to place the measure on the October ballot passed the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly 7-2 at the Aug. 6 meeting. Assembly members Paul Fischer and Betty Glick opposed the measure. In recent interviews, both argued that regulations for new landfills are changing at such a rate that in five years, the cost of beginning the project may grow to more than what the bond will cover for the second cell.
"We have no idea what the cost may be in five years," Fischer said. "We may need more. We may need less. The idea of going this way, was that maybe planning would come quicker. I'd rather be on the side of caution."
He said although he is in favor of expanding the landfill, he does not want to get the borough committed to an extended project that might cause trouble if the economic climate went totally sour.
"If you get locked into these things and there's a downturn, you have to say no to something," he said. "And jobs would be on the line."
Glick said she supported the measure, as well, but leaned more toward taking one cell at a time.
"I applaud their effort for doing 10-year planning," Glick said. "Why ask the voters to authorize $12 million, when in fact we're only going to use about half of it now? Why not wait until we are going to be ready to do a second cell and know for sure what we will have to spend?"
Assembly member Pete Sprague said the assembly could work out ways to accommodate any inflation resulting from government changes.
"Through the amending process, we could address that," he said. "There also might be some technology that could (help)."
Fischer suggested seeking government monies to fund the project or dig deep into the borough's coffers for money he said was available.
"I said go back to the people, and in the meantime, try to get money from the state and federal governments," he said. "The solid waste is an obligation of the total borough. If we needed, we could take care of that."
Mayer said one alternative to bonding was piece-mill financing through borough appropriations -- which is limited to $1.5 million per year.
"We would possibly have to scale back the project in increments instead of the bulk," she said. "It would ultimately end up costing us more and would take longer."
Mayer said another option was to seek government grants, and she said she already has applied for about $4 million in matching grants from the state. She said that source is not guaranteed, and the borough would have to produce its own money to match the grant.
"It shows the community's commitment," Mayer said. "It's a lot for them to give to one community, but I think the chances are pretty strong."
If the ballot measure is defeated, that would mean immediate plans to pay for the landfill expansion may have to be put on hold. Mayer said she would look to begin the project as soon as possible, regardless of the outcome at the polls, however. She said she will appropriate the maximum to start work.
"We don't have a choice," Mayer said. "The garbage has to go somewhere."
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