Contentious change of course for Glenwood’s South Canyon Landfill
The contract operator of Glenwood Springs’ South Canyon Landfill continues to question the city’s recent decision to bring the operation in house and the analysis that led to that decision.
However, a majority of City Council stand behind the decision and the recommendations of city staff and the consultant who did the work.
Council, in a 5-1 vote Nov. 1, agreed to take over the landfill operation west of town at the conclusion of Heartland Environmental Service’s current contract on April 1, 2019.
That decision was based on an analysis and financial model created by the consulting firm Blue Ridge Services earlier this year, which compared a contract operation to one run by the city.
Blue Ridge offered the city five options, but “strongly recommended” only one: to internalize the operation of the landfill.
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Heartland Environmental Services owner Larry Giroux, who began operating the South Canyon Landfill in 2009, however, could not disagree more with the evaluation, calling it “very flawed.”
Giroux explained that the consultant awarded points for different aspects of the operation, and in evaluating his experience compared to city staff, he noted that he came out on top.
“I have got 30 years of experience. I know what I am doing,” Giroux said. “Like I said, not one of their people have ever operated equipment.”
City Councilor Rick Voorhees, who voted in favor of internalizing the landfill operation, said he trusts city staff to take on the operation responsibly.
“I would not have voted for it if I was not confident in our staff and their expertise,” he said.
Another concern brought up by members of the public at the Nov. 1 council meeting was a recommendation by Blue Ridge Services to discontinue the compost operation at the landfill.
The compost operation has been losing money, to the tune of more than $329,000 per year, while the landfill as a whole is about $1 million in the red.
“You are the only facility between Denver and Delta that takes [restaurant] grease and car wash [waste water] at this time,” one business owner said at that meeting.
“When [the consultant] evaluated the numbers he took out the cost to operate the compost operation,” Giroux added. “He took the equipment out of it, the manpower out of there. All of that stuff to operate the compost operation, he took it out of there.”
City Councilor Jim Ingraham, who also voted in favor of bringing the operation back in-house, said Tuesday, “Those businesses, they do not really care whether we compost or not. What they care about is having some place to get rid of grease, car wash … and septic waste.”
“For us to be able to take that kind of waste from those businesses is … top priority in my mind. But there are different things we can do with it,” Ingraham added regarding what he said are alternative, cost effective ways the landfill could still accept those forms of waste.
Councilor Todd Leahy recused himself from the landfill discussion and subsequent vote because he was finalizing an unrelated real estate deal for Giroux. Leahy said he has since concluded that he did not believe council had enough information, at this time, to make an educated and responsible decision.
“There is a reason why we are not running it now, because the last time we ran it, things did not go well,” Leahy said. “One, it is dangerous out there, and two, there is a lot of regulation. … You better know what you are doing, or we are going to get in trouble again.
“My understanding was last time we did this, we were not necessarily following all of the regulations properly, which is why we hired professional help to make sure we were,” Leahy said.
According to emailed correspondence to City Council, Giroux pointed out seven “serious issues” his company had to clean up following the city’s previous tenure of operating the South Canyon facility.
Giroux said the site was 85 feet over its permitted height. The landfill had also buried waste on neighboring BLM land, and had removed dirt from BLM without permission.
The landfill also had significant water ponded on waste, and failed to comply with air quality permit requirements, he added, and other aspects of the operation were also out of compliance.
“The compost area was on fire the day we took over,” Giroux said.
Glenwood Springs Mayor Michael Gamba, who voted against taking the landfill in-house, like Giroux, also questioned aspects of Blue Ridge Services’ assessment.
“Based on that one report, I felt that there were enough questions remaining that we needed to hold off for the time being,” Gamba added.
According to Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa, “Staff recommended Blue Ridge Services to City Council based upon its vast experience and a phone interview.”
The city manager said she was not aware of Blue Ridge Services having ever been contracted out by the city prior to its work regarding the South Canyon Landfill.
“We will have a completed business plan by the end of the year,” Figueroa said. “We will have to bring requests to purchase and/or rent equipment to City Council.”
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On Thursday, Glenwood Springs City Council dedicated additional funding to the South Bridge project and awarded a planning services contract for the city’s comprehensive plan update.