County: Public Works looking to relieve backups at San Juan Island Solid Waste Drop Box

Forty cars were already backed up from the entrance to the San Juan Island solid waste station when it opened at 10 a.m. on July 23, county Communications Manager Stan Matthews said.

Workers reported that the backup persisted all day as 490 self-haul vehicles came through the station. "It was a rough start on the first week of a new operating schedule at the transfer station," Matthews reported in a press release.

Adding to the problem of early arrivals was the number of vehicles carrying large loads of construction waste. “One truck unloaded two tons of construction waste by hand. That took up one of our three spaces at the drop box for a long time,” Public Works Operations Manager Russ Harvey said in the press release. Harvey reported on the problem to the County Council at its meeting July 27.

Harvey told the council that the volume of traffic and the amount of garbage dumped on each of the San Juan Island station’s three operating days varied widely: 18 tons was dumped on July 23, more than three times as much as was dumped on July 24; 11 tons of waste was dumped July 25 but it came in smaller loads, as the facility handled nearly as many vehicles as on July 23. There were no serious backups on either July 24 or 25.

“Beginning Friday afternoon we made an effort to have someone go down the line and direct people with only recycling to pull around and go directly to the recycling area. That turned out to be very helpful and we will continue to do that,” Harvey said.

“We expect the volume of traffic to even out over the weekend days as people get used to the new hours,” he added.

Utility Manager Ed Hale told the council there were some surprises in how the drop box facility was working, compared to its operation as a transfer station, but he believed the initial backup was the result of a combination of things including the unfamiliar operating schedule and normal seasonal increases in volume.

July and August are always the busiest months of the year and last summer there were days when cars waiting to get into the San Juan Island Transfer Station would be backed up to Roche Harbor Road as well, Hale said. “This is not just a problem because we’ve changed the operation. We have backups every year at this time.”

Harvey said that in addition to trying to expedite recycling-only traffic, solid waste staff is studying the impact of trucks unloading large amounts of construction waste on Fridays to see if a new strategy in dealing with larger volume haulers is called for.

The San Juan Island solid waste facility was converted from a transfer station to a drop box facility on July 5 in order to deal with restrictions on its operating permit. “Packer” trucks and other compacted loads are now being handled on Orcas Island. Some of the Town of Friday Harbor’s trucks are carrying their loads to Skagit County.

The operating days for the San Juan Island facility was changed to Friday through Sunday effective July 16, to accommodate the need for more staffing on Orcas Island to handle the added workload during the week.

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