Salt Lake County officials are showing some flexibility to help their main refuse collector encourage recycling while still bringing enough garbage to the Salt Lake Valley Landfill to keep it solvent.
The County Council agreed Tuesday that it should step back from an earlier decision to seek a 50-year commitment from the Wasatch Front Waste & Recycling District to bring as much garbage to the landfill as it does now.
Council members sought that commitment in November, 11 months after the district became largely independent of the county after three decades of being a subsidiary known as Salt Lake County Special Service District No. 1.
The district collects garbage and recycling from 81,000 homes in the unincorporated county, Cottonwood Heights, Herriman, Holladay, Taylorsville and part of Murray. All of those communities were in the unincorporated county when the garbage district was created in 1977, but have since become cities.
The district’s Jan. 1, 2013, separation from the county reflected those changes, giving each of the cities more say in operations of the district that serves their residents.
The County Council continues to represent unincorporated residents, but in its other role running the whole county, it also is part-owner of the landfill at 6030 W. 1300 South.
Over the past year, some council members grew concerned that the landfill’s sometimes precarious finances will suffer if the district ever decided to take its garbage to another landfill.
"We have to protect the financial status of our landfill.… We would be abdicating our responsibility if we didn’t keep an eye over it," Councilman Jim Bradley said Nov. 26, when the council formally encouraged Mayor Ben McAdams to negotiate an agreement that obligates the district to bring a proportional amount of its waste collection to the landfill for the next half century.
"It’s a public landfill that Salt Lake County and [co-owner] Salt Lake City have invested in heavily," Bradley added. "We have to maintain that and we can’t be undercut by private landfills."
That mandate concerned the garbage district’s board, which includes four county council members as well as representatives of the cities.
A long-term mandate to deposit certain volumes of materials at the landfill could run counter to the garbage district’s efforts to expand recycling and inaugurate separate collections of green waste for composting — both of which benefit the landfill by lengthening its life, said the garbage district’s outside attorney, Mark Anderson.
"There’s no desire by the [district] to bolt and deliver its waste to the private sector," he added. "The commitment on our side is to deliver waste to the same facilities as before [while] having more conversations as efficiencies and technologies evolve."
County council members accepted the suggestion and on Tuesday amended their original position to recognize a mutual interest in the "disposal of a substantial percentage of the annual net waste stream" at the landfill.
But the council also wants formal assurances from the garbage district that it will not seek legislation or pursue other means of becoming fully independent of the county.
Details will be worked out in agreements to be negotiated between McAdams and district manager Pam Roberts.
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