County’s waste-by-rail multi-beneficial

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Bert Lance, the budget director under Jimmy Carter, first popularized this now common phrase in the late 1970s to push back against government’s all too common tendency to tinker with things that are working just fine, with negative and often costly results. Thankfully, after much debate, the Snohomish County Council and County Executive have realized that this well-used phrase applies to our Snohomish county’s already efficient and effective system for disposing of solid waste.

Since 1992, the people of Snohomish County have benefitted from an innovative, environmentally friendly waste-by-rail disposal system that produces a wide range of benefits, including: keeping rates stable for county residents, converting garbage into renewable energy, creating hundreds of well-paid jobs, and significantly reducing truck traffic on our overcrowded highways.

It is a system, built on a unique partnership, which ties together Machinist Union members in Klickitat County to the solid waste system in Snohomish County, and is widely considered a model for the industry.

The Snohomish County Council recently took action ensuring that this system stays in place for the next five years.

Here’s how the system currently works: Garbage is collected from our homes and businesses and taken to a rail yard in Everett. Working under a contract with Snohomish County, Allied Waste Services, a Northwest company that has been providing Washington state residents with disposal and recycling services since 1927, loads the garbage onto rail cars in Everett, which transport the waste to the company’s state-of-the-art gas energy and landfill in Klickitat County.

At the Roosevelt landfill, the recently upgraded H.W. Hill gas-to-energy facility captures the landfill gases (like methane) that are created as organic waste decomposes. Approximately 150 Machinist Union members work at the landfill, turning the garbage that comes in into 20 megawatts of electrical power, part of which is sent back up to Snohomish County for use by residents. Even better, green energy production at the landfill is expected to jump dramatically — enough to power 30,000 homes — in the near future.

It is a seamless, integrated system that works well for our needs in Snohomish County. That is why County Executive Aaron Reardon and the County Council agreed to extend the agreement. The benefits of extending this successful partnership are many:

•The new agreement will save the county more than $500,000 a year and provide rate stability for local governments and customers — critical during these tough times.

Continuing our current system protects jobs in Snohomish County and other communities around our state.

Our innovative approach to solid waste disposal is a smart environmental choice, helping to meet our region’s energy needs.

On behalf of the 45,000 members of the International Association of Machinist District 751, representing Boeing workers in Snohomish County and across Washington, as well as the workers in Klickitat County who make the solid waste system work, we applaud the County Council and the executive’s action. The ordinance passed is a good deal for taxpayers, ratepayers, workers and the environment.

Tom Wroblewski is the president of IAM District 751.

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