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Landfill fee waiver for Windmill waste creates conflict at solid waste meeting

January 11, 2019

Conflict broke out Wednesday at the Douglas County Solid Waste Advisory Committee meeting, after the county allowed the Hanna family to deposit the demolished Windmill Inn’s remains in the county landfill for free. Had they been charged, the cost to the Hannas for that disposal would have been almost $50,000.

Until Wednesday, the chairman of the committee had been Larry Spielbusch, a longtime former county public works employee. The Douglas County Board of Commissioners voted to remove Spielbusch and appoint Dick Heard as his replacement. The commissioners made the decision at their regular meeting Wednesday morning, just a few hours before the Solid Waste Advisory Committee meeting.

Spielbusch opposed the Windmill fee waiver and had pushed for months to get the issue on the advisory committee’s Wednesday agenda, without success. He alleged the commissioners booted him from the committee because they wanted to keep the fee waiver secret.

Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice said it was Spielbusch’s behavior, not a desire to hide the fee waiver, that led to Spielbusch’s removal from the committee.

Spielbusch attended Wednesday’s advisory committee meeting anyway, and he erupted during a discussion about potentially increasing the landfill’s disposal rate.

“I sat here and listened to this bullshit for the last half an hour,” Spielbusch began. He said before the committee considered increasing rates, they should “tell that guy right there in the corner” that “he’s got to stop giving away free landfill space for developers.” The man in the corner was Boice.

Spielbusch said when developers don’t pay landfill fees, everyone else has to pay for that.

“It’s unethical, it’s dishonest and that’s the reason I am not the chairman of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee anymore, because I was bringing it up to SWAC for their review and recommendation,” he said.

Boice said the waiver was granted by the county’s public works director because the development planned at the Windmill site will benefit the community economically, and because the Hannas allowed police and firefighter training there.

Email exchanges between Spielbusch, Boice and Public Works Director Scott Adams indicate that as early as November, Spielbusch had asked the issue be on the January meeting’s agenda. He was told it was beyond the committee’s purview.

On Monday, Spielbusch emailed other committee members to say that “for whatever reason” fee waivers were not going to be on the agenda, but he would bring it before the committee for discussion anyway.

He suggested that the county should have an ordinance amendment outlining the reasons fee waivers might be given. He recommended rules similar to Lane County’s, which allows fee waivers for public nuisance properties and community cleanups but not for projects involving economic development.

The Windmill Inn was located on Mulholland Drive near Garden Valley Boulevard. The Hannas built a new Hampton Inn between the Windmill site and the Coca-Cola plant, which they also own. They plan to create the Hanna Heritage Place where the Windmill stood.

At the advisory committee meeting, Boice said the county has approved several similar fee waivers, including one for the owners of the abandoned Safeway building downtown. Demolishing the Safeway building will eliminate an eyesore, he said.

Committee member Ellen Porter from Roseburg Forest Products suggested the Windmill issue was going to be a “500-pound gorilla in the room” and said it was important to be transparent.

Boice said Spielbusch wasn’t removed because the county wanted to hide anything.

“The fact that (Spielbusch) was looking into this has nothing to do with the reason he’s not here anymore,” Boice said. “The reason that he’s not here anymore is because he acts like that.”

Porter defended Spielbusch.

“For the years that I’ve been on this committee, (Spielbusch) has acted with a lot of integrity. I think he was looking for transparency. I’m not comfortable with this idea of making him the scapegoat. Maybe I will be the next one to go,” she said.

Boice told The News-Review Thursday that the advisory committee’s role is supposed to involve monitoring the contracts with local trash haulers and making recommendations on fees.

“We appreciate (Spielbusch’s) years of service, but it was apparent that he was concerned about issues that were outside the scope of the responsibility of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee,” Boice said.

Boice said 1,069 tons of waste were brought to the landfill from the Windmill Inn demolition. The scrap metal and concrete were disposed of elsewhere. Without a waiver, the fee for the Windmill disposal would have been about $48,645 including the wood waste, which is charged at a different rate, Boice said.

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