Lower 48 landfill operators compete for Alaska's trash

Posted: Tuesday, December 17, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Southeast towns faced with increased environmental regulations and near-capacity landfills are washing their hands of garbage problems and barging trash to the Lower 48.

At the same time, competition for Alaska's trash is picking up.

Outside landfill companies are telling Southeast communities that sending garbage south is cheaper and better for the environment.

''It makes all sense in the world,'' said Eddie Westmoreland, division vice president of Waste Connections. High rainfall, lack of land and leaching from unlined landfills has been a garbage nightmare for Southeast communities, Westmoreland told the Alaska Journal of Commerce. The California-based company operates landfills in Washington and Oregon.

Ketchikan started the garbage-exporting trend in 1995 and has been followed by Sitka, Wrangell and Petersburg. This month, Klawock on Prince of Wales Island will begin barging its refuse south.

Klawock, which produces 2,000 tons of refuse annually, is Waste Connection's first Alaska customer. Klawock Mayor Donna Williams said expensive environmental regulations and landfill expansion would have bumped the price of trash service from $30 a month to $101.

Klawock's landfill also serves Craig, which has a population of 2,300, three times that of Klawock. By barging garbage off Prince of Wales Island, the rates will remain at $30, the mayor said.

''It's cost-effective,'' Williams said. ''If you put trash in the ground, you accept responsibility for it over the next 30, 40, 100 years. And you have to put money aside for closing costs.''

Rabanco Co., Washington state's largest privately owned waste handler, saw a need in Southeast several years ago, said Pete Keller, the company's district manager. Rabanco's Roosevelt Regional Landfill in southcentral Washington is permitted for some 120 million tons of solid waste over the next 40 years. It serves some two dozen municipalities in the Lower 48, as far away as Idaho and British Columbia.

It makes sense for Southeast communities to ship trash there, too, Keller said.

''Logistically, it's a challenge,'' Keller said. ''Certainly from an environmental standpoint, it helps keep Alaska pristine.''

Keller said Ketchikan and Sitka each produce about 10,000 tons of garbage a year that is shipped south in 40-foot containers. The containers are taken by rail to the landfill and dumped.

Petersburg and Wrangell each produce about 3,000 to 4,000 tons, he said. The company charges the communities about $100 a ton.

''It's affordable,'' said Keller.

Ted Jacobson, senior operator at Ketchikan's solid waste facility, said shipping garbage south cost the city about $800,000 last year. That's a bargain, considering the expense of a new landfill, monitoring costs and closure fees, Jacobson said.

Most communities that use Rabanco have five-year contacts, renewable for 20 years or longer. Ketchikan recently renewed its contract.

Rabanco and Waste Connections want to expand into other parts of Southeast and possibly other regions of Alaska.

Both companies rely on Alaska Marine Lines to haul the refuge from Southeast. AML welcomes the business.

''It resolves a lot of issues in Southeast as well as creating new opportunities for us,'' said Jeff McKenney, an AML sales manager in Seattle.

Glenn Miller, environmental engineer at state Department of Environmental Conservation in Juneau, said his agency does not advocate sending solid waste south but it's an attractive option for many communities.

Shipping garbage out of Alaska cuts air and water pollution and keeps bears out of city dumps, a problem throughout Southeast. In many cases it is the least expensive, most environmentally sound way of dealing with solid waste, he said.

Ten years ago, many Southeast communities worried about losing jobs and resisted sending trash south. Klawock Mayor Williams said the opposite may be true in her town. Another position may be added there to help load garbage barges.

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