Cimarron gains edge in Orcas trash tug-of-war

By Steve Wehrly, Journal Reporter

Plans and taxes are easy. Contracts are hard. At least for the San Juan County Council.

The County Council on Sept. 11 passed the final version of the draft county Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Plan previously approved by the council and the Washington Department of Ecology. Then, the council increased the present 10 percent excise tax on garbage to 16 percent.

Both items took about 30 minutes. The next agenda item took three times as long.

Responding to a staff report recommending "timely negotiation" of contracts for nine solid waste services at the Orcas transfer station, the council discussed the relative merits of Cimarron Trucking, which now hauls waste from Orcas under contract with garbage giant Waste Management, and Orcas Recycling Services, the local non-profit operator of The Exchange re-use facility at the Orcas station.

"I like the passion that Orcas Recycling brings to the table," said Councilman Howie Rosenfeld. "Local control has lots of advantages and I think they  will be much more likely to achieve our goals to reduce, re-use and recycle."

Rosenfeld tried to convince his colleagues to continue the hearing on Orcas Island at a council meeting already scheduled for October, but a majority of the council was ready to vote.

The discussion and vote were prompted by Utility Manager Ed Hale's recommendation that the county approve negotiation of contracts "to ensure transition of the site by the end of 2012." The current contract for waste and recycling disposal by Waste Management ends on Dec. 31, 2012.

In a 5-1 decision, with Rosenfeld dissenting, the council voted to accept the recommendations outlined by Hale in the staff report.

Cimarron Enterprises was recommended to provide self-haul and bulk garbage and recycling services, services that require use of the tipping floor at the facility. The tipping floor generates the bulk of the revenue from both garbage and recycling.

Both the staff report and council members noted that Cimarron's finances, personnel and experience with garbage give them the edge. Responding to Rosenfeld's preference for Orcas Recycling, Council chairwoman Patty Miller said the goal was two contracts "that assure financial viability of each service and each provider with no subsidization" by the county.

The staff report recommended Orcas Recycling should provide reuse, self-haul recycling, composting, construction material reclamation and resale, special waste handling (oil, batteries, antifreeze, appliances), "producer responsibility programs" such as e-waste and fluorescent light bulbs, and "community outreach services on Orcas to further the county's long term goals for reuse and waste reduction."

Rosenfeld, joined in part by Councilwoman Lovel Pratt, said Orcas Recycling would "better advance overall goals of recycling, reuse and long-term waste reduction."

Miller, however, noted that Cimarron was ready now to handle and transport garbage and bulk recycling off Orcas. Orcas Recycling Services, on the other hand, had not yet identified a transportation partner or shown the council how it could take over operations by the end of the year, according to Miller and others on the council.

Miller did acknowledge that "ORS (Orcas Recycling Services) may be the best long-term solution." To that end, she hopes the Cimarron contract could be limited to five years, giving Orcas Recycling time to expand its services beyond its present, and highly regarded, reuse program.

Meanwhile, the "easy" part of the council agenda imposed a 16 percent excise tax on garbage pick-up and self-haul fees, which will raise about $331,000 per year to finance the county's solid waste budget, including debt payments. The Lopez Solid Waste District also imposed a similar 16 percent tax, which Public Works Director Frank Mulcahy estimates would raise about $40,000 - just enough for Lopez to pay an agreed-upon annual contribution of $39,000 for its part of the county's solid waste budget.

The tax applies only to garbage collections and drop-off, not to recyclable collection, re-use or other non-garbage services. In an earlier staff report, Hale estimated that applying the tax to recyclables and related services could reduce the tax to 12 percent, but that idea was rejected by the council to keep recycling costs attractive to consumers.

The "hard" part will be structuring contracts acceptable to both Cimarron and Orcas Recycling - especially providing a revenue stream that will permit Orcas Recycling to develop its several services beyond its present reuse business.

Mulcahy is confident it can and will be done. "We can negotiate a contract with Orcas Recycling so they can develop a business plan with the revenue it needs to be successful," he said. "I think the council's goals for solid waste in the county are definitely achievable with hard work and positive thinking by everyone."





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