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Counties Are Looking for Solutions to Landfill Issues

Municipal Representatives at Regional Landfill Meeting

A host of representatives turned out Tuesday, September 26th, for an open session on the impact state mandated regulations are having on small town landfill operations in southeast Colorado.

John Swartout, Senior Advisor to Governor Hickenlooper

The Prowers County Commissioners hosted the meeting at the county courthouse which was attended by State Senator Larry Crowder and representatives from Pritchett, Springfield, Walsh, Holly, Granada and Two Buttes, as well as from Baca, Cheyenne and Kiowa Counties. The various communities were also represented by John Taylor, Executive Director of Colorado Counties Incorporated and Legislative Advocate from CCI, Brandy Delange.  Also in attendance were Tammie Clark, Prowers County Public Health Executive Director, Eric Depperschmidt, Executive Director for Prowers Economic Prosperity and John Swartout, Senior Advisor to Governor Hickenlooper as well as several concerned citizens.

Prowers County Commissioners, Grasmick, Cook and Buxton-Andrade

Almost every small community with a landfill feels as if its back is being pushed against a wall by the regulations mandated by the state through the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. They claim the costs of running a landfill under these regulations are financially punitive and they claim they have received little cooperation or understanding from the state to include conflicting rules and policies from some of the officials with whom they’ve had dealings.  The Prowers County Commissioners invited them to meet with the governor’s representative, John Swartout, to seek some unified direction acceptable to all parties.

The local representatives all acknowledge they need to abide by landfill regulations for the health and safety of their communities, but they are seeking a way to make the state take a more, ‘hands-off’ approach to enforcement and allow the communities more ‘hands-on’ say-so with their landfill’s oversight.

Some feel, from the responses they’ve had from the CDPHE, the state health organization isn’t getting the full picture of how their regulations are having a negative impact on community finances. Peter Dawson, Baca County Commissioner, said his poverty rate level is about 80% of the population and cannot handle a rate increase for trash collection or to sustain a regional transfer station.  Another estimated their landfill in Pritchett didn’t see 20 tons of refuse a year, “We have one paid employee who is paid about $40 a week to handle our trash and the rest is done by volunteers.  We’re fenced in, we’re contained and the trash is capped, but the regulations are expensive to follow.”

Others have said they’re getting different rulings from the CDPHE on how to manage the landfills, such as the recommended depths of the water monitoring wells not making much of a difference when each community has water levels at different depths. “Why are we told to drill a 90 foot deep well, when our water table is at 500 feet,” asked one official?  Others wanted to know why Colorado is being held to regulations on well monitoring from a study that was developed in Wyoming.

Prowers County Commissioner Ron Cook expressed doubt that the CDPHE has thought far ahead enough to develop a plan for regulating a regional landfill if one was developed for southeast Colorado and Commissioner Wendy Buxton-Andrade said the CDPHE is enforcing federal EPA guidelines that basically exempt small communities from being fined.

Granada Mayor, Glenn Otto, said the community could be fined $52,000 by October first for non-compliance issues. State Senator Larry Crowder said the fines are levied through the state attorney general’s office and suggested that the counties take these issues to court through their county attorneys.  “You would be surprised by the amount of leverage the county has on some of these matters,” he suggested.

A suggestion was made to seek a moratorium on the forced closing of the small landfills and any current fines from the state and hold a regional meeting between southeast Colorado representatives and someone from the CDPHE who has the authority to take action and not just pass the buck to another desk. This would provide time for the state to study the problems created by closing landfills and look at the options available by developing a regional landfill.

John Taylor, Executive Director of Colorado Counties Incorporated, suggested that a sense of partnership between the communities and the CDPHE needs to be developed and his organization would host such a meeting. “I think some kind of open dialogue would be beneficial and a way to show the state the impact their regulations are having on our rural communities,” he suggested.

By Russ Baldwin

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