Las Vegas Sun

November 25, 2014

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Landfill decree avoids big issue

County deal with EPA won’t settle who will pay for cleanup

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Steve Marcus

Eight years ago, Republic Services agreed to pay to clean up Sunrise Landfill in exchange for a garbage contract extension.

Clark County is preparing to sign a consent decree that would let it off the hook with federal authorities who want the Sunrise Landfill properly closed, but would leave unanswered the key question of who will pay for the work — the garbage company or county ratepayers.

The deal defines the amount of work remaining at the dump — an estimated $36.3 million worth — and levies a penalty of $1 million against Republic Services, which has haggled with the federal Environmental Protection Agency for the past nine years over how to properly close the landfill, on the eastern edge of the valley.

Sunrise stopped receiving trash in 1993, but an inefficient closure left it vulnerable to a 1998 rainstorm that sent trash into the Las Vegas Wash. The EPA ordered the county and Republic to clean up and properly close the landfill.

Under a 1999 deal between the county and Republic, the garbage company agreed to bear the full cost of the project in exchange for a 15-year extension, to 2035, of its lucrative contract to collect solid waste in unincorporated Clark County.

Since then, the cost of cleaning up and closing the dump has soared tens of millions of dollars beyond the original $36 million estimate. The project’s final price tag is expected to be nearly double that amount.

Republic last year asked the county to impose a 2.2 percent “environmental surcharge” on Clark County residents’ garbage bills to help pay for the remaining work. That would amount to an additional 81 cents for most residents on their quarterly $36.60 garbage bill, but many vehemently opposed any increase because Republic had agreed in 1999 to perform the work.

In recent months, county officials have become more resolute in their position that Republic is fully responsible for the work. They say the consent decree reinforces that position.

“The agreement does not carry any costs for the county,” county spokesman Dan Kulin said. “It reemphasizes that Republic is responsible to do this work.”

But while the consent decree says Republic “shall fund and perform all the work” described in the consent decree, that seemingly declarative statement is made hazy by the four words that follow — “subject to Paragraph 74.”

Paragraph 74 of the agreement says there is an ongoing dispute between Republic and the county over who should pay for the work. It also says Republic and the county agree that the obligations assumed in the consent decree cannot be admitted as evidence in any judicial proceeding initiated to resolve the dispute.

That language makes it sound as if Republic is considering legal action against the county if it doesn’t budge on the surcharge issue.

Republic Area President Bob Coyle, though, downplayed such a reading. “That’s something the lawyers put in there,” he said. “I am not aware of any dispute.”

But some county commissioners said Republic has sent its own legal opinion to the county regarding who should pay for the remaining work. Kulin did not provide the Sun with a copy of the opinion and County Counsel Mary-Anne Miller did not return phone calls from the Sun.

Most commissioners said Wednesday they had not had an opportunity to review the consent decree, which they are scheduled to approve Tuesday.

Republic also must sign the decree, along with the EPA, the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Justice Department, for the agreement to take effect. EPA officials say they anticipate all parties will sign the agreement.

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