Town pushes back regarding proposed trash rate hike; withdraws offer to sell Sutton Road property to county

The county and town have long clashed over the condition of the solid waste transfer station — leased by the county, owned by the town. Despite environmental and safety concerns, the site tops the county
The county and town have long clashed over the condition of the solid waste transfer station — leased by the county, owned by the town. Despite environmental and safety concerns, the site tops the county's list of sites for a new solid waste transfer station.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen | File photos

Friday Harbor is pushing back regarding the county's proposal to raise town trash rates from $197 to $225 per ton.

Friday Harbor is withdrawing "for the time being" its offer to sell the Sutton Road site to the county and may terminate its solid waste transfer station lease in 2014, according to a letter approved and signed Thursday afternoon by the mayor and Town Council.

The letter to the County Council, authored by Town Administrator King Fitch, was the town's response to the county's proposed ordinance setting new solid waste rates, which the County Council is scheduling for a public hearing. Randy Gaylord and Karen Vedder of the Prosecuting Attorney's Office, and Steve Alexander and Ed Hale of Public Works were present at the Town Council's noon meeting to receive copies of the letter. Alexander, manager of the Solid Waste Division, said he had no comment at the time.

The county is proposing raising the town's rates, as well as rates for San Juan Sanitation and self-haulers, to help fund capital improvement costs. But town officials believe the town's proposed rates include money to help pay for environmental monitoring of the county's landfill on Orcas Island.

The solid waste transfer station is owned by the town and leased by the county. A 1994 lease agreement set the county's annual lease payment at $10 a year; in exchange, the town expected its rates would not include any costs related to the county's landfill on Orcas Island. The first rate agreement, signed in 1995, set the town's rates at $130.70 a ton.

In addition, in its lease agreement the county agreed to maintain and operate the waste transfer station in compliance with applicable local, state and federal laws; and to maintain it in a "neat, orderly and sanitary condition."

The relationship between the town and county regarding the site has been contentious. At one point, the county offered to buy the site. That prompted the town to buy a site for a public works yard (it stores some of its equipment and materials on Sutton Road). But then the county backed out.

The town determined the structural integrity of the tipping floor roof was compromised by damage, and ordered the county to fix it or take it down. But the town didn’t order the county to fix or replace it. So the county, which had its eyes on moving, took the cheap way out and took the tipping floor cover down, leaving refuse exposed to the open weather.

In April 2009, County Administrator Pete Rose told town officials he wanted to rebuild trust between the town and county, and agreed with Town Council members Anna Maria de Freitas and Liz Illg that the county should share the costs of cleaning the current waste transfer station site. The county is under orders from the state Department of Ecology to install a new tipping floor roof.

If the county goes forth with the rate increase, the town asks that the county consider helping pay the environmental monitoring costs associated with the closed landfill "which has a significant amount of San Juan Island generated solid waste buried in it." Those costs, borne by the town, are expected to be $64,000 this year, according to the letter.

The town also states that it wants to keep open its options for future solid waste management, in light of the Solid Waste Division's projected debt.

"We were distressed to read about the $700,000 projected debt in the County Solid Waste Disposal District fund," the letter states. "Due to the uncertainties of the future financial health of the District and the Town's possible need to perhaps fully utilize our facility on Sutton Road, we feel at this time that it may not be in the public's best interest to declare any portion of our 26 acres as surplus. Therefore, regretfully we must withdraw for the time being our offer to sell the County approximately 6.7 acres of the Sutton Road property."

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