Montgomery Burns Only Its Own Trash
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 13, 1998; Page A30
Montgomery County has escaped many of the financial struggles pressuring Northern Virginia's incinerators and has insulated itself from having to take in out-of-state waste and industrial loads.
The county banned burning anything in its Dickerson incinerator except for trash collected in Montgomery. It negotiated more favorable terms in its contract with the incinerator operator and it built a smaller facility.
But those advantages come at a price for Montgomery residents, who pay an additional fee for trash disposal that their Fairfax and Alexandria counterparts do not.
Montgomery benefited from coming late to the incinerator business. Its incinerator did not open until 1995, seven years after the plant in Alexandria, long enough for officials to assess their neighbors' experiences.
"We were able to look at what was happening around the country, and we realized the trash market was volatile," said Montgomery County Council President Isiah Leggett, who has served on the council for 12 years. "In hindsight, our decision compared to Fairfax's was a little more reasonable."
Even before construction began on the $270 million plant, Montgomery officials noticed that trash collected in the county had started to head out of state to cheaper landfills. The county did not want to sign a contract that obligated it to deliver a fixed amount of waste to the plant and put it in the position of having to hunt down trash. The County Council also passed a resolution in 1992 stating the plant "must be used only for solid waste generated in the county," effectively banning imported trash.
"We don't want to even appear that we have to feed the incinerator at the expense of recycling," said Jim Reynolds, a Montgomery County solid waste engineer.
But all of those comforts carry a high cost.
It costs $45 million a year to run the plant. The electricity generated as part of the trash burning helps cover some of the plant's costs. But to further finance those operations, pay down debt on the plant and cover other waste-related costs, the county includes a user fee that averages $205 a year as part of each household's tax bill. That fee is separate from any bill a homeowner pays for trash pickup by a private hauler or the county. Fairfax, Alexandria and Arlington currently have no similar user fee.
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