Public Works proposes one transfer station for the islands; meeting with County Council Sept. 28

The San Juan County Public Works Department proposes closing two of the county's three solid waste transfer stations in order to cut costs and balance the budget of the Solid Waste Division, beginning next year.

Public Works Director Jon Shannon told the County Council on Tuesday that only the Orcas Island transfer station would remain open beginning next year under the department's preliminary 2011 budget. If that preliminary budget is approved by the council as is later this year, those who live on San Juan or Lopez could either haul and dispose of their trash and recycling at the Orcas facility or rely on the county's franchise hauler, San Juan Sanitation, to pick it up.

Shannon said the department has been instructed by the county's budgetary team, led by Administrator Pete Rose and Auditor Milene Henley, to avoid what proved to be a miscalculation in the 2010 solid waste revenue and spending plan, and to submit a balanced budget for the year ahead.

"Essentially, that one-station model works," he said. "We can't balance the budget with three facilities."

The council approved this year's solid waste budget with the recognition that an additional $1.6 million in revenue would be needed somewhere along the way to cover the cost of the operation. That anticipated shortfall remains largely unresolved and, despite this year's fee increases and cutbacks in service, the solid waste division is roughly $630,000 in the hole.

Financed almost exclusively by tipping fees, or the price one pays to dispose of garbage, the solid waste operation collected roughly $300,000 less in revenue in 2009 than it did the year before as roughly 2 million fewer pounds of garbage were disposed of countywide. That decline in the amount of garbage collected and in the amount of revenue collected has continued this year as well, according to Public Works.

Meanwhile, the council recently enacted a $5 fee that applies to "recycling only" customers with an expectation of generating roughly $240,000 in additional income.

Though the plans are on the table, closing the San Juan and the Lopez solid waste facilities is not a done deal. Public Works will meet with the council Sept. 28 to discuss three options, along with cost projections, for the coming year.

At this point, those options include:

— Operating all three facilities.
— Maintaining only the Orcas Island transfer station.
— Get out of running a solid-waste operation all together.

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