by Ron Gregory
MADISON — Boone County’s controversial decision to close its two trash transfer stations is on hold after a ruling Thursday by the state Public Service Commission. Officials with the county said at midday Friday they were prepared to abide by the PSC order.
Basically, the order schedules a March 18 evidentiary in the matter and directs the County Commission to refrain from terminating the service without an order of approval from the PSC. In a somewhat confusing portion of the order, the PSC has ordered the Commission to begin charging user rates for the stations “according to its prevailing tariff.”
Inasmuch as Boone citizens have been permitted to use the stations for years at no charge, a County Commission spokesman said Friday, “we aren’t even sure what tariff they are talking about. It may be one where customers were to pay something like 50 cents a bag to bring garbage to the sites. We aren’t equipped to charge by tonnage or anything, so we aren’t sure what will happen with that.”
County Commissioners have consistently said that a drop in tax revenues, primarily in Coal Severance Taxes, prompted plans to close the two facilities. An ad hoc committee, spearheaded by Madison Mayor Sonny Howell, opposed the move and has sought proposals from outside companies to operate the sites.
At this point, the group said at a Thursday night meeting that it has no prospective parties interested in keeping the stations open. County Commissioners have consistently said they made efforts to find someone to operate the stations and were unsuccessful.
County Commissioners also believed that, once they gave a 120-day closure notice in October 2015, they would be permitted to close the facilities on January 30. However, the PSC staff maintained this week that the closure notice is procedural and an order from the PSC granting permission to close is still required. They had said they did not expect any such decision earlier than May.
In this week’s order, the PSC noted that figures provided to the agency would require customers of the transfer stations to pay $148.40 per ton. Recently, the Towns of Madison and Danville along with the ad hoc committee calling itself Concerned Citizens of Boone County filed petitions to intervene in the case. That permission has been granted and the March hearing scheduled at the Boone County courthouse.
At the hearing in March, the order says the burden is on the Boone County Commission to prove that “future public convenience and necessity permit the closure it has requested.”
One argument from the beginning has been whether the County Commission has offered a sufficient alternate plan for citizens to dispose of their waste. The citizens group maintains they have not but County Commissioners say Solid Waste Management will pick up trash at local residences and businesses served by the transfer stations.
Although subtle, the order calls into question how the County Commission, which acts as its own solid waste authority, has operated the stations for years without charging citizens. It notes that the stations’ certificates of convenience authorize and require that tariff rates be charged.
“If they had charged the rates approved for the stations, they might not be claiming to be broke right now,” said one member of the citizen committee.
Matthew Minney, Deputy Chief Administrative Law Judge, signed the order.