County Council: Transfer station will stay at Sutton Road

The San Juan Island solid-waste transfer station is staying right where it is -- at least for now.

In a 4-1 decision, the County Council on Tuesday selected Sutton Road, the site of the existing transfer station, as its top choice for the future home of a new, improved and, perhaps someday, expanded solid-waste facility. The council chose Beaverton Valley Road as its second choice and Daniel Lane as its third.

Councilman Richard Fralick, Orcas West, was the lone dissenting vote. Councilman Bob Myhr, Lopez-Shaw, was absent.

Failures at the Sutton Road site, future construction and improvement costs and ensuring that the island has just one solid-waste operation weighted heavily into the decision.

"We can make Sutton Road work," said Councilman Howie Rosenfeld, Friday Harbor. "Choosing Sutton Road allows us to put all our attention in the near future into one site."

As part of its decision, the County Council agreed that construction of a new facility will be contingent on striking a deal with the Town of Friday Harbor, one that would set the stage for either the purchase of the property or a long-term lease. A fraction of the 26-acre former landfill is currently leased by the town to the county for its solid-waste operation.

If an arrangement with the town can't be reached, the council agreed to set its sights on building a new facility on Beaverton Valley Road.

The Sutton Road site poses some challenges for the county.

The Public Works Department has been cited by the state Department of Ecology for allowing contaminated water at the Sutton Road waste transfer station to come into contact with groundwater. The county was also cited for not having an Industrial Stormwater General Permit.

Contamination occurs because the tipping floor has no roof to provide cover over the solid waste dumping area, and because of broken pipes in the site's storm drainage system, Ecology reported.

An administrative order — “requiring compliance whenever it determines that a person has violated or is likely to violate any provision” of state environmental law — was issued in response to Ecology’s compliance inspection of the solid waste transfer station on March 10.

The administrative order finds the solid waste transfer station is a “Significant Contributor of Pollutants,” and requires Public Works Director Jon Shannon to apply for a Industrial Stormwater General Permit.

“In summary, the order directs the county to address industrial stormwater issues at the facility by applying for coverage under the industrial stormwater general permit, and to comply with that permit’s requirements,” according to Ecology spokeswoman Katie J. Skipper. “This will lead to measures to prevent the release of contaminated stormwater from areas exposed to rainfall, where solid waste is handled, processed or stored.”

Skipper said compliance with the stormwater permit is required while the existing facility remains in use.

“Although Ecology has been flexible to this point on solid waste requirements, the county needs to meet those requirements as well, unless an additional variance is approved. The existing solid waste variance expires May 14.”

That variance allows the county to operate the tipping floor without a roof. The county must apply for another variance to continue operate the tipping floor.

Ecology likely will require a stormwater permit if the transfer station is relocated, Skipper said.

“When the new facility is built or the existing facility is improved, it should be designed and operated so stormwater does not come into contact with solid waste operations.”

She added, “San Juan County officials are aware of the stormwater problems and are cooperating to come into compliance with stormwater requirements.”

Richard Grout, manager of Ecology’s Bellingham field office and a former San Juan County planning director, said the county has 30 days from the issue of the order to apply for the Industrial Stormwater General Permit.

Under the permit, the county would have to develop a specific plan on how to control stormwater at the waste transfer station.

Grout said Ecology is being flexible because the agency knows Public Works wants to build a new transfer station elsewhere. But Ecology wants the problems fixed.

“If they know they’re going to move, we’re willing to entertain some temporary solutions,” he said.

“We’re not interested in making them spend a lot of money, but they have to show us they’ve come up with temporary solutions that will keep tainted stormwater from coming into contact with groundwater.”

Grout said the tipping floor is not the only issue. As an example, he told of an equipment fueling area at the waste transfer station. The fueling area is required to have an impervious surface with a curb so any spills can be contained. Grout said an inspection revealed soil under the tank was soaked with fuel.

“They chose to remove the tank and clean the soil and fuel their equipment elsewhere,” he said.

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