Rural Areas Winning Fight To Keep Out Urban Garbage -- Incinerators, Landfill Can Only Bring New Jobs, Supporters Say
SPOKANE - A year ago, two Eastern Washington counties were struggling to answer whether two hazardous waste-incinerators and a regional landfill would make good neighbors.
Since then, one project has been abandoned, another is on hold and the third has been rejected by a county planning commission.
Developers aren't giving up. But opponents are gaining confidence that urban-generated wastes won't end up in the agricultural area.
Leslie Fanning is confident enough that she's cleared her living room of five cardboard boxes with documents on a hazardous-waste incinerator proposed west of the grocer's Royal Slope home in Adams County.
The environmental reports, waste stream analyses and other papers began piling up in 1983, when the incinerator was first proposed. Now the project is on hold.
"My kids are going to be quite thrilled this stuff is going to the basement," said Fanning, a member of Concerned Citizens of Royal Slope, which opposes the incinerator. "We're pretty much ready to put this issue to bed."
The state Department of Ecology on Sept. 30 suspended work on permits for the incinerator. Von Roll Inc., of Switzerland, and Seattle-based Rabanco Ltd., have proposed building the burner in Grant County on a bluff east of the Columbia River near Vantage.
The same day the state held up the project, the Adams County Planning Commission voted to deny a land-use permit for a regional landfill that would hold up to 90 million tons of garbage. A Washington subsidiary of Waste Management Technologies of Illinois wants to build the landfill next to wheat fields outside Washtucna.
A new vote is scheduled Oct. 28 because officials determined the secret ballots the advisory panel used in the first vote violated the state Open Meetings Act. The county commission has the final say on the land-use permit.
Another Adams County project was abandoned by developers last November. The ECOS Corp. wanted to build a hazardous-waste incinerator near Lind, but dropped the idea after four years when it couldn't find a financial partner.
Tom Eaton, a hazardous-waste program manager for the Department of Ecology, said it could be a year and a half to six years before the state considers any permits for new hazardous-waste facilities, including the Royal Slope incinerator.
The state put the project on hold so it can reassign staff to issue final permits for about 30 existing hazardous-waste handling sites, Eaton said.
The review follows federal action to bring hazardous-waste incinerators in line with new environmental and health guidelines. The Environmental Protection Agency's new stricter standards for incinerators won't be in place until spring 1995 at the earliest.
The suspension of permit work for the Royal Slope incinerator has left its developer in limbo. EPIC Environmental Group, the name Von Roll and Rabanco are using in the project, is reviewing options and continues to believe the incinerator is needed to meet disposal demand, EPIC spokeswoman Del Rae Allert said.
"We are very disappointed by the state's decision," Allert said. "We've spent $9 million on this project so far and don't even have approval for the site."
Don White, a farmer and president of Concerned Citizens of Royal Slope, said such waste facilities don't belong in the heart of one of the nation's richest agricultural areas.
Even if farm lands aren't affected by incinerator emissions, consumer fears over the safety of Eastern Washington crops could make them impossible to market, White said.
Opponents also don't want to deal with wastes generated largely in the Puget Sound area.
"There's no reason Eastern Washington should be ethically responsible for taking care of Western Washington's waste," Fanning said.
Similar arguments are being raised against the regional landfill proposed in Adams County.
Gregg Beckley, a wheat farmer and president of the Organization for the Preservation of Agricultural Lands, said it will be hard for county commissioners to disregard the planning commission's 4-3 advisory vote against a land-use permit. State permits also are required for the landfill.
"It was pretty plain and simple these people don't want to see these types of projects in our agricultural areas," Beckley said.
Supporters believe a landfill would pose little environmental risk and spur local job growth.
Scott Cave, a spokesman for the developers, sees the planning commission vote against the project as a challenge.
"What this says to us is there's more work to do to inform the county commissioners and citizens about our project," said Cave, of the Seattle public-relations firm Northwest Strategies.
Waste Management wants to begin accepting garbage at the site in 1995 from cities in Eastern Washington and Northern and Central Idaho.
In addition, Seattle could begin sending to the site all the 400,000 tons of trash it throws away annually. That garbage now goes to a Waste Management landfill in Arlington, Ore., and the 30-year contract requires the company to offer Seattle assurance by the end of the year that it will operate an Eastern Washington site.
Adams County is the only place Waste Management has proposed a landfill in Eastern Washington. The site could shave about $1.50 off the $44-per-ton fee Seattle pays to send trash to the Oregon site, said Ed Steyh, contract manager with Seattle Solid Waste Utility.
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