Following a series of related articles published in the Norwalk Reflector and Sandusky Register, the Huron County Prosecutor’s Office issued a press release about the lawsuit Thursday.
The information sheds light on why the Huron County commissioners last spring ended the arrangement that made Erie County responsible for picking up and disposing of all garbage generated in Huron County.
Huron County uses “flow control” to pay off costs associated with its closed landfill as well as the transfer station and recycling center. Local trucks — including ones operated by Norwalk’s sanitation department — dump garbage at the transfer station on Townline Road 151 near Willard. Then, the transfer station crew loads the garbage into trailers that are hauled away to a landfill outside of the county.
Until last spring, that destination was the Erie County Landfill, located on Hoover Road in Erie County’s Milan Township.
A five-year contract between the two counties — which took effect Jan. 1, 2015 — called for a waste hauler to pick up garbage at the transfer station and haul it to the Erie County Landfill. That hauler was Custom Ecology Incorporated (CEI).
The contract required Huron County to pay Erie County $26.50 per ton for this service in 2018. That price allowed the transfer station to accept garbage from Huron County residents and businesses for a tipping fee of $54 per ton, which is basically the same amount that neighboring landfills charge, according to the press release submitted Thursday by Randal L. Strickler, chief assistant for Huron County Prosecutor James Joel Sitterly’s civil division.
Erie County was charging its residents and businesses $52 per ton to use its landfill. So Erie County had been giving Huron County a disposal rate for almost half the amount it charges its own residents and businesses.
For perspective, Rumpke Waste Management’s gate rate at its own Noble Road Landfill in Richland County is $65 per ton.
In March 2018, Sitterly — citing issues involving service, money and EPA compliance — informed the Erie County commissioners that the solid-waste agreement was being terminated. The following month, Erie County’s legal team filed the lawsuit against Huron County.
Huron County then hired Rumpke to haul the waste to Richland County. Huron County recently signed a long-term deal with Rumpke.
From December 2017 through March 2018, “there were numerous incidents” in which Erie County’s haulers failed to pick up garbage from the Huron County Transfer Station, according to Strickler.
“Erie County was notified of these failures in service and was unable to resolve the issue,” Strickler wrote. “Erie County was given several opportunities to resolve its noncompliance issues but Erie could not perform its obligations as agreed upon in the contract with Huron County. Instead, Erie County wanted Huron County to change the terms of the contract and increase the transportation and disposal price to Huron County.”
Following a public records request, the Reflector obtained copies of all email correspondences between the two counties involving trash-related issues from January 2017 until April 2018, when the lawsuit was filed.
Conversations between Erie County and CEI reveal ongoing issues, including not enough trailers being provided for the transfer station crew to load. That resulted in many instances in which trash was left overnight on the transfer station’s floor.
Erie County Solid Waste Director Bryan Gill, in a June 9, 2017 email to a CEI representative, complained about the service.
“I do strongly believe that the Huron County staff has reached the end of their patience with this continued service and is no longer tolerant,” Gill wrote. “This is a contract and relationship which Erie County is not willing to disrupt. Only ten days ago did we have the same issue.”
Email reports and conversations during the following six months show incidences of trash left on the floor, broken equipment, out-of-service trailers remaining at the transfer station, an inadequate amount of useable trailers and CEI crews not returning trailers in a timely fashion — something that could result in unnecessary overtime pay for county employees.
In early November 2017, a series of emails discuss damaged equipment. CEI’s Charles Stansley said the damage happened at the transfer station and wanted direction with billing. When told by Gill that CEI should contact transfer station representatives, Stansley responded: “CEI is not going to bill your customer for damages as it’s your customer and they refuse to pay the bills. That being said we are going to bill Erie County as the customer who’s responsible to address the loading.”
Stansley also told Gill that a certain transfers station employee “continues to play games.”
When responding to Gill’s inquiry, Pete Welch, Huron County director of operations, said: “CEI has not informed us about any damage to trailers. However, we have noticed the dolly legs have been getting ‘bent’ due to the way CEI drivers drop their trailers since this summer.”
Later that month, in discussions about a potential meeting involving these issues, Welch told Gill: “CEI is not our contractor and it is not expected for Erie County to mediate any deals. We are not getting the service that is required and that’s putting us in jeopardy with the EPA and our ability to operate a transfer station. As Erie County’s client, we expect our concerns to be addressed in a timely matter.”
In a Dec. 12, 2017 email, transfer station employee Dave Homan reported a trailer was returned “with the tire still off the rim.” He added: “It has been reloaded and on its way to Erie County now with the tire still off the rim. Do we have a public safety concern?”
About two weeks later, a similar incident was reported: “It appears safety is taking a second seat to getting the job done. Trailer 2040 made a complete round trip with an outside tire off the rim and no flaps. This is how people get hurt. Trailer 2043 just left with no flaps.”
On Jan. 3, 2018, Welch asked Gill: “Do you want us to load trailers with tires off rims? Stansley has a trailer with two tires off the rims asking us to load it.”
Gill, in a Dec. 18, 2017 email to CEI terminal manger Greg Kinder, discussed the problem of trash being left on the floor. “Greg this is a breakdown in communication and operations. I am not taking kindly to being beat up every Monday morning and even throughout the week that Huron County is not able to load trailers. I know there were breakdowns last week … but there needs to be some proactive measures taken when we are short on trailers and have broken down trucks. This account takes two drivers pulling no less than three loads each per day and we have continued to request that there be six trailers in operable condition.”
In late December, Kinder complained about drivers being locked in and construction debris causing flat tires.
Stansley, in requesting a meeting about these issues, stated: “It’s obvious that Dave’s goal is to break the contract by delegitimizing our service to the contract. He’s locked my employees in his facility, locked them out of his facility, damaged our equipment and otherwise has just been disrespectful and contrary to our working relationship.”
On Jan. 10, Gill told Stansley: “I was reluctant to respond to this ridiculous finger pointing … you are not looking at the big picture here. In the three years that I have been here, it has been the same problem with only the name on the equipment changing. Transfer floors not being cleaned, not enough trailers operable, drivers not hauling enough waste on Saturday, having only one driver haul waste, equipment not being repaired in a timely manner or replaced with operable equivalents.”
Reasons for switching
After Huron County terminated the transport and disposal contract “because of Erie County’s numerous and repeated failures to pick up solid waste in a timely manner from the transfer station,” Erie County notified Huron County that it could not resume picking up the transfer station waste “unless Huron County agreed to pay a higher rate of $29 per ton in 2019,” Strickler wroter.
“Huron County doubted that Erie County could resume the service after Erie County released the original hauling contractor and proceeded to request bids on three separate occasions for the work but never awarded the hauling contract,” Strickler wrote. “Rather than agreeing to Erie County’s request for a price increase, Huron County put the contract back out for bid, which Erie County was given the opportunity to submit a bid. However, Erie County did not submit a bid.”
The three-year contract with a pair of one-year renewals was awarded it to the low bidder — Rumpke, Strickler said.
Based on Rumpke’s pricing, the transfer station is still able to accept garbage delivered by Huron County residents and businesses “for a very competitive tipping fee” of $28 per ton, Strickler concluded.