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Same Old Garbage? 

by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & n old wound was reopened last week at a meeting of the leaders of Spokane's Solid Waste System and members of the county's Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC). The two sides were working on a chapter about who will operate and oversee the regional garbage system for a proposed new comprehensive plan when committee member Ken Gimpel suddenly said, "Why can't the city accept what we're bringing forward?"

What they're bringing forward is a call for a review of the current system's administration. They say the Regional Solid Waste System is regional in name only. The county and all the municipalities route their garbage to the incinerator, but the plant is owned and operated by the city of Spokane. Several SWAC members argue the city often ignores the concerns of the other customers and they object to the city's solid waste director being in charge of the incinerator, since the city is the plant's largest customer.

"The city doesn't seem to recognize that there's a problem with administration [of the plant],' said SWAC Chairman Scott Carpenter.

System officials have said they're open to a discussion about who should operate the plant, but that changes wouldn't come until after the bonds that financed the plant are paid off in 2011. Carpenter sought assurances that the new plan would call for a review of the system administration by mid-2008.

The SWAC is one of two boards that advises Solid Waste System officials about the operation of the plant. Its membership includes a county commissioner, a Spokane city councilmember, members of public interest groups, the waste management industry and businesses. Six elected officials sit on the second committee, the Solid Waste Liaison Board, two each from the city and county of Spokane, one from Spokane Valley and one from Cheney. But it too is only an advisory group. SWAC members want a committee that they say would have true oversight authority.

Critics complain Spokane has among the most expensive garbage disposal fees in the country. They say the county and cities should be free to explore less expensive ways to get rid of their trash. "We want the regional system intact but some of our partners aren't interested in continuing," said Carpenter.

"We're not hearing the same dissatisfaction you're hearing," replied Suzanne Tresko from the Solid Waste System.

"Then they're not telling you the truth," Carpenter fired back. He said Medical Lake and Cheney have conducted joint studies to consider running their own system. And he says Liberty Lake and Spokane Valley are only obligated to send trash to the incinerator until 2011, after which they could devise their own garbage strategies.

Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin suggested the city and county get together to develop a new system of oversight. Fine, said committee members, as long as the process doesn't go on indefinitely.

SWAC members voted to explain their position in a letter to the county commissioners.
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