August 11, 2008

EPA, Trash Hauler, County Agree on Landfill Work

By Scott Wyland



After much haggling, a waste hauler has agreed to finish cleaning up the troubled Sunrise landfill that disgorged heaps of smelly refuse into the Las Vegas wash in 1998 when floodwaters tore open its earthen cap.

Republic Services, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., signed a consent decree with Clark County, the federal Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The company agreed to pay $1 million in penalties and acknowledged the estimated $36 million in work that must be done to erase the dumpsite's hazards.

The decree was filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas and needs a federal judge's approval.

All parties hailed the pact, reached last week, as an important step in clearing up lingering problems and alleged federal violations at the 440-acre landfill, which was closed in 1993 after taking in some 25 million tons of waste.

"It's definitely a milestone," county spokesman Erik Pappa said, adding that full remediation of the site will ensure public health is protected.

The company must install a durable cap and a drainage system to divert surface water, and it must monitor the site on the eastern outskirts of the valley for 30 years.

The question of how the costs should be divvied up is left unresolved, however.

Republic Services didn't budge from its stance that it should pay for no more than $7 million of the remaining work. The company said it already has spent $29 million on cleaning up and monitoring the closed landfill.

The company contends that its obligation does not extend past the $36 million estimate given in 1999 when it agreed to fix the site in return for the county extending its trash-hauling contract through 2035.

"We're committed to paying the $7 million," said Bob Coyle, Republic Services area president. "Beyond that, there isn't an answer right now."

County officials are exploring whether to impose a surcharge on trash service for businesses and households to help cover the costs. Commissioners are scheduled to review a list of proposed surcharges on Aug. 19 and discuss how much of the burden the county should bear.

Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani argued that Republic Services should push none of the landfill costs onto taxpayers. "They should pay for whatever it takes to close it correctly," Giunchigliani said.

She argued that the company has earned interest on the funds they've set aside for fixing the Sunrise site, offsetting what they've spent on the work so far. The company's financial reports show that $29 million would hardly dent its profit margin, she said.

But Commissioner Chip Maxfield said the consent decree leaves room for the county and the company to negotiate. The language does not clearly state that Republic Services is solely responsible for paying all remediation costs, Maxfield said.

Now all parties acknowledge what must be done at the site, he said. "Signing the consent decree satisfies the EPA."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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