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Broward County, cities moving to chart the future of garbage disposal and recycling

A large room filled with tables at which municipal leaders are listening to Broward Commissioner Beam Furr and Weston Mayor Dan Stermer
Broward Commissioner Beam Furr and Weston Mayor Dan Stermer on Monday addressing a gathering of municipal leaders about finding long term solutions to the county’s garbage disposal and recycling problems

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

In an impressive showing of unity, representatives of 30 municipal governments met this week to begin the complicated task of figuring out the future of garbage disposal and recycling in Broward.

“We are here to chart our destiny on how to deal with our waste and recycling for the next 50 to 75 years,” said Weston Mayor Dan Stermer, who also serves as president of the Broward League of Cities.

Fed up with what Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan called “being held hostage to the private market,” the county and 29 cities signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) over the summer calling for the establishment of a “regional solid waste and recyclables management system.” Only tiny Lazy Lake – population 24 in the 2010 census – has not signed.

Weston Mayor Dan Stermer, president of the Broward League of Cities

Broward Commissioner Beam Furr termed what was happening “a declaration of independence.”

About 100 people attended the Monday gathering at the Sunrise Civic Center, including County Administrator Bertha Henry, Broward Mayor Mark Bogen and County Attorney Andrew Meyers. Also present were representatives of Waste Management, which in recent years reestablished monopolistic control of the county’s waste stream, and some smaller disposal and hauling companies.

Recycling goal: 75 percent

A key focus of the discussion was how Broward, with 1.9 million residents, might reach a county-wide recycling goal of 75 percent.

With the rise of Waste Management, which owns the bulbous Monarch Hill landfill in Coconut Creek, recycling in Broward has declined dramatically. The current recycling rate for Broward is just 34 percent.

Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan at Monday’s meeting

A spokeswoman for consultant Arcadis went over the key findings and recommendations in its recent study on garbage disposal and recycling, including various cost estimates for “the construction of facilities required to meet the 75 percent recycling goal.” Those costs range from $285 million to add a fourth incinerator to increase capacity at Wheelabrator South Broward waste-to-energy plant in Fort Lauderdale to more than $1.22 billion to build a second waste-to-energy plant by 2025.

There was no discussion about how those enormous costs would be paid, except for the assertion that the system should ultimately “pay for itself.” The municipalities would set set tipping fees, the per ton costs paid to dispose of waste at a landfill or plant.

Incinerators turn household garbage into electricity that would also add income and are credited toward recycling goals. Four years ago, at the request of Waste Management, the county commission approved the shuttering of the company’s North Broward waste-to-energy plant. Both plants were paid for by Broward taxpayers, but were ultimately given away to the operators.

For decades the Resource Recovery Board set countywide garbage policy via an interlocal agreement among cities. But the RRB did not include a number of cities, including Hollywood. It was disbanded in 2013 amid controversy and political wrangling.

Governance

The municipalities who signed on to the MOU, including Hollywood, were presented with a recommendation for governance. Ultimately, it will be up to them to decide how to proceed.  The target date for a governance decision is April 20, 2020.

Instead of another interlocal agreement, Arcadis has recommended the creation of an independent special district that would create a “collaborative governance structure” to enable both the county and cities to participate in policy decisions. “This form of governance was selected as it provides a mechanism that does not allow a single large city or the county to control the district,” says Arcadis’ report.

Broward Commissioner Beam Furr speaking at Monday’s meeting

Setting up a special district would require approval of the Florida Legislature.

Since the 11-member RRB was dissolved, the county and the cities have been faced with the fact that the majority of in-county processing and disposal options are controlled by the private sector, notably Waste Management. The Arcadis team is recommending the development of new solid waste processing facilities “through a public/private partnership ownership option.

“This will provide for public ownership of the solid waste facility (ies) constructed and financed by the New District, provide more control and input into the daily operations and maintenance activity of the facility (ies), as well as provide the opportunity to negotiate the terms of the operating agreement with the selected private entity,” the Arcadis report said.

A working group

Before governance is agreed upon, however, the municipalities must designate a Working Group, made up of five to nine elected officials who will establish policy and make recommendations. How they will be chosen is unclear. One idea is to make selections based on population, with four or five members coming from the top 10 biggest cities, two or three from the 10 next biggest cities and one or two from the smallest third.

A Technical Group, made up of municipal staff that will assist and handle operations, also will be selected. Each of those groups will be “labor intensive,” according to Sunrise City Manager Richard Salamon.

According to a list of “milestone dates” provided at the meeting, the working and technical groups could be in place by next month’s meeting on Nov. 15.

Stermer pledged to the attendees that the process of establishing a comprehensive solution for the county’s solid waste problem will be “transparent” and that the Working Group will be subject to the open government requirements of Florida’s Sunshine Law.

Stermer also asked the cities “to put in the rearview mirror” any past distrust. He was referring to tensions that arose amid a 2015 legal fight between the county and 18 cities over who should get a share of tens of millions of dollars in RRB assets. A settlement was later reached.

“What we’re doing is critical to the future of this county,” Stermer said.

The final milestone date is Sept. 30, 2020. That’s when documents necessary to create the kind of governance that’s chosen are to be finalized.

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