While landfills are generally getting larger, governments—particularly in rural and semi-rural areas—own many smaller facilities. Eventually, they’ll run out of room.
When they do, the costs associated with solid waste collection go away, but not those related to the landfill itself. Certain activities, such as monitoring and collecting methane and leachate, must continue. EPA requires private owners to fund these future expenditures via a surety guarantee or performance bond. However, publicly owned landfills are only required to estimate those costs. When it’s time to actually pay those bills, public solid waste agencies that haven’t planned ahead will be in the same boat as many government pension plans.
Santa Cruz County in Arizona is working to avoid that possibility. Even though the county’s 60-acre landfill isn’t expected to reach capacity for three decades, its board of supervisors has spent almost $562,000 on professional services over the last decade to develop a long-term waste-management strategy. They want to be able to continue providing collection and disposal services to 47,000 people, while ensuring their landfill meets federal and state regulatory requirements.
In part, this foresight was prompted by the loss of a major customer. But there was another impetus: their desire to relieve future Solid Waste Division managers and residents of the burden of making detailed, difficult financial and public service decisions under duress.
Next page: 50% drop in revenue prompts reassessment