Town, County at loggerheads over privatization of transfer station

The future of self-haul at the San Juan Island transfer station on Sutton Road remains in doubt.  - Journal file photo
The future of self-haul at the San Juan Island transfer station on Sutton Road remains in doubt.
— image credit: Journal file photo

By Steve Wehrly/Journal reporter

The level of service ordinance passed by the San Juan County Council on April 3 is another step in the process of privatizing solid waste disposal service following voter rejection of the Council’s “Plan A” ballot proposal in November.

Still unaddressed are self-haul and recycling/reuse services at transfer stations on San Juan, Orcas and Lopez islands. While progress has been made to continue operations at the Orcas transfer station and the Lopez drop box facility, an operating plan for the Friday Harbor-owned Sutton Road facility on San Juan Island is at risk, if not regressing.

On Lopez, an active citizens group (the Solid Waste Alternatives Project) wants to established local control of garbage, recycling and reuse operations by creating a Lopez-only Solid Waste Disposal District funded by a local voter-approved property tax.

County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord told the council at its April 3 meeting that the Port of Lopez is no longer interested in operating a Lopez-only disposal district. With the Port out of the picture, the council explored the interest of Lopez citizens.Gaylord said that the county could create the disposal district by ordinance, but funding the district would require a Lopez-only voter-approved property tax district, estimated at $8 per $100,000 of property value.

A resolution for the November ballot would have to be approved by the council and filed with the elections office by no later than August 7, primary election day. The council discussed recent voting patterns on Lopez, including rejection of Plan A on Lopez by a vote of 1,006 to 345.

Councilman Jamie Stephens, citing the strong community support for local control, supports the idea that proponents should present a petition with signatures of at least 550 registered voters no later than May 15. The council agreed, and Stephens said he would carry the message to SWAP and Lopez residents.

The attention of the council moved to operation of the Orcas Island transfer station by a private contractor. Gaylord said a draft “request for proposals” is being prepared by county Public Works and that he would add a form-of-service agreement to the RFP and present both for council consideration April 17.

Continued operation of the San Juan Island transfer station, owned by the town and leased for $10 per year to the county, is more problematic — on several levels.

First, the county and Friday Harbor must negotiate an extension of the lease, which expires in 2014.

Second, the state Department of Ecology has set a “close the gates” date of Sept. 30, unless “substantial progress” is made to deal with stormwater runoff deficiencies at the facility.

Third, a request for proposals with detailed operating parameters satisfactory to Friday Harbor, DOE and potential private operators must be prepared and distributed.

Gaylord said town-county cooperation is essential to resolving these and other roadblocks to continued facility operation. But “neither side is cooperating,” according to Gaylord, an assessment shared by council members Lovell Pratt and Howie Rosenfeld, both admittedly frustrated by lack of progress.

King Fitch, Friday Harbor administrator, does not believe that renegotiation of the lease is going to happen soon. Liability and indemnification questions must be answered, he said.

Additionally, Fitch said, “the county has no solid business plan. We need to know what’s in it for the town.”

Capital improvements, including a new roof on the tipping floor, need to be planned and funded by the county. In addition, said Fitch, “our attorney has advised us that the town must finish its update of the solid waste management plan” and coordinate the town’s plan with the county’s plan.

Councilwoman Pratt said, “Solutions can be found, but I’m disappointed that the council has not focused as much time and effort” on the San Juan Island transfer station as on the Orcas and Lopez facilities. “I also want to urge San Juan islanders to let the town of Friday Harbor know they want a self-haul facility on San Juan Island.”

The prospects for self-haul look bleak, according to Councilman Rosenfeld, who fears that “self-haul on San Juan Island will be history” and the transfer station closed.

“We’re just about out of options,” he said.


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