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Agency Weighs Importing Trash From Neighboring Counties : Landfills: Waste commission to seek bids from L.A., San Diego. Plan could bring $500 million in revenue.

April 14, 1993|KEVIN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — A sharply divided Waste Management Commission voted Tuesday to begin seeking bids from Los Angeles and San Diego counties for the possible importation of trash to Orange County landfills.

Commissioners said the action did not represent a full endorsement of the idea of importing those counties' refuse, which promises more than half a billion dollars in new revenue for the county. But opponents said the move could ensure that outside haulers begin dumping here by January.

"I am ashamed," critic Dolores A. Otting told the commission before its vote. "I am sure nobody wants this to be the dumping ground for all of Southern California. What are we going to do next? Put a plutonium loading dock in Newport Beach?"

In a 9-8 vote, the county commission supported the bid solicitation plan only as a way to measure interest from potential exporters in Los Angeles or San Diego counties, where there are severe shortages of landfill space.

Commissioners said that after receiving bids they will vote--possibly in August--on whether to formally recommend the import policy for adoption by the Board of Supervisors.

Although the issue has not yet reached the board, Chairman Harriett M. Wieder gave a preliminary endorsement in an interview Monday when she described the import policy as "cost-effective."

Wieder said that "some convincing arguments" were made by Murry Cable, director of the county's Integrated Waste Management Department, that the county's available landfill space would not be overly taxed by the volume of imported garbage.

County officials have said that the importation of garbage as proposed, at a maximum level of 10,000 tons per day, could bring the county about $520 million over five years.

Included in the formula is a surcharge of about $10 per ton that could be directly applied against any county budget shortfall, which this year stands at a massive $93 million.

If it does not import trash, the county could be forced to raise landfill entry charges over the next five years, imposing the $93-million cost on consumers.

"We expected this to be controversial," Cable said. "But in tough financial times, we have to explore every viable option."

Local trash haulers are charged $22.75 per ton of garbage for entry to any of the county's four dump sites--Frank Bowerman in Irvine, Brea-Olinda in Brea, Prima Deshecha in San Juan Capistrano and Santiago Canyon in Orange. According to the importation proposal, minimum bidding from outside interests would start at $32.75 per ton.

Strong challenges to the plan have already been expressed by a coalition of major trash haulers in Orange County and some waste commissioners who fear that importation would reduce the county's own bank of landfill space.

Commissioner Anthony Bland of San Juan Capistrano said Tuesday that importation would serve only to break trust with consumers who have helped finance public recycling operations as a way to conserve landfill space.

"It's a sure-fire way to make money," Bland said. "But the only way to look at it is to decide if it is philosophically or morally correct for this county. For me, it's just not the right thing to do."

Cable has said that importation, even at its highest level, would reduce the life span of the county's available landfill space by just two years, from 44 years to 42 years.

Probably the most heated exchange during the meeting was sparked by Commissioner Glenn Hellyer of Anaheim when he proposed converting some of the millions of dollars in projected revenue to a reduction in landfill gate fees.

Hellyer proposed raising the minimum bid for exporters to $40 per ton and dropping local gate fees to $20 per ton. "We've got to give a break to our constituents," said Hellyer, whose proposal met with immediate protest from Cable.

Ultimately, Hellyer said, the Board of Supervisors will not be able to resist the temptation to exchange landfill space for much-needed cash.

As a result, he said, it was up to the commission to recommend some guidelines as to how such a policy should be regulated.

Tuesday's commission meeting marked the second time in as many weeks that the panel has dealt with the issue. On Thursday, commissioners deadlocked on the question of concept approval after another protracted debate.

Since that first meeting, a coalition of nine local trash haulers has announced its opposition to the plan.

The haulers, represented by consultant Philip L. Anthony, said importation would probably spark rate increases for residents. Rates for residential garbage pickup throughout the county range from $10 to $15 per month.

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