The Flathead County Solid Waste Board on Tuesday toured two potential sites for future landfill expansion, but some board members later were miffed to learn the county commissioners already have a consensus on which site they prefer.
The board some time ago identified two areas near the landfill for possible future expansion. The expansion would allow the county to have enough land to bury garbage for 100 years. Current capacity at the landfill is about 50 years.
One of the sites includes 14 parcels owned by 14 families, spread over 91 acres adjacent to the landfill’s southwest corner. That property recently was appraised at about $3.269 million.
The second area is a 571-acre tract of agricultural land directly west of the landfill, owned by Hank and Lacy Galpin of Sky-Air Enterprises. Its appraised value is $3.315 million. The Sky-Air property was named as the preferred alternative in a 2009 strategic plan for the landfill.
“Both sites are viable candidates,” county Public Works Director Dave Prunty said. “There are pros and cons on each site.”
Prunty individually polled each commissioner and learned they favor proceeding with the 14 parcels.
The commissioners’ consensus didn’t sit well with several board members since the board is still fact-finding and hasn’t made a formal recommendation for a proposed expansion site.
“I see this vote being taken away from us,” board member Wayne Miller said. “It appears the commissioners have taken the responsibility [for a site selection] upon themselves.”
Board chairman Hank Olson agreed, saying, “We spent a year with the neighbors and then we get told what to do ... all the batting around we’re doing don’t matter.”
Not all of the 14 property owners whose land is targeted for potential expansion are on board with selling to the county. The Solid Waste District was able to get appraisals on only 11 of the parcels and used estimates from the strategic plan to calculate the remaining three appraisals.
Board member John Helton wondered whether the county commissioners will be willing to condemn the hold-out properties “when the time comes.”
Olson added: “We need all 14 parcels.”
One possibility for proceeding with the 14 parcels is a lease-back option in which the county would buy that property and then lease it back to the individual homeowners.
While both sites are workable as future landfill sites, Prunty said, “it does concern me if someone holds out. We want to make sure the property owners get as good as they can.”
In light of the potential for having to condemn some property for future landfill use, board member Lorin Lowry questioned if dealing with that many property owners is the way to go.
“Are we setting ourselves up for a roadblock?” Lowry asked.
Prunty said he believes the engineering firm that chose the Sky-Air property as the preferred alternative — SWT Engineering of Ontario, Calif. — did so because of its level terrain and size of the tract. Licensing for the Sky-Air property would be more difficult because of its proximity to the Stillwater River, Prunty said.
Commissioner Gary Krueger, the commission’s representative on the Solid Waste Board, said he’s concerned about the operational costs of moving the landfill to the Sky-Air site. The commissioners have spent time considering the two sites, he said.
“We didn’t just look at it for a few minutes,” Krueger said, adding that the Sky-Air tract “is a lot of acres for a landfill.”
Krueger owns property across the river from the Sky-Air acreage, but said he doesn’t believe that’s a conflict of interest for him to make a decision on the sites.
It would cost the county about $1.6 million more to relocate to Sky-Air rather than expand to the 14 parcels near the landfill’s southwest corner, Prunty said, because of the added costs of moving buildings and making road improvements.
At the board’s direction, Prunty asked the commissioners on Wednesday to take formal action to provide direction about how to proceed with the expansion sites. Prunty said the commissioners didn’t say whether or not they’ll take a vote, but he hopes to have further direction by the Solid Waste Board meeting April 2.
Prunty added that doing nothing and not proceeding with either site also is an option.
Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at email@example.com.