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County asks town to pay for construction of tipping floor roof at solid waste transfer station

With a deadline drawing near, San Juan County officials hope to avoid turning the solid waste transfer station on San Juan Island into a drop-box facility by building a cover over the tipping floor. And they
With a deadline drawing near, San Juan County officials hope to avoid turning the solid waste transfer station on San Juan Island into a drop-box facility by building a cover over the tipping floor. And they're hoping the Town of Friday Harbor will pay for it.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen / file photo

With a deadline drawing near, San Juan County officials hope to avoid turning the solid waste transfer station on San Juan Island into a drop-box facility by building a cover over the tipping floor.

And they're hoping the Town of Friday Harbor will pay for it.

On Tuesday, the County Council agreed to send a letter to the Town Council asking that it consider financing the construction of a structure that would encase the tipping floor — the slab of concrete where garbage is dumped and then pushed into the bed of a long-haul truck.

The Town of Friday Harbor owns the solid waste transfer station site, and San Juan County leases it and operations the transfer station.

Public Works Director Jon Shannon said it would cost up to $200,000 to design, engineer and construct such a structure. But having it in place, he said, may convince state officials to grant another extension to the permit that for years has allowed the county to operate the facility despite long-standing deficiencies.

That permit is slated to expire at the end of June.

"Time is of the essence," the council noted in its letter to the town. "The utility must show substantial progress toward covering the tipping floor by June 30 to make the case for extending the variance allowing the facility to continue operation as is."

Based on recent trial runs, Shannon said converting the solid waste transfer station into a drop-box facility that can accommodate packer trucks — such as those used by the town and San Juan Sanitation, as well as large roll-off boxes — and that would also meets state standards, has proven problematic.

"Operationally, it's really difficult," Shannon said.

Town Administrator King Fitch said there's reason to believe that the Town Council may grant the county's request. He said he will present the council with the letter when it meets today.

The town, Fitch said, likely would be forced to send its packer trucks either to the mainland or to the county's solid waste transfer station on Orcas Island if the San Juan site is converted to a drop-box facility. As a result, the town would have to consider raising rates to offset an increase in transportation and labor costs.

"We really do not feel the county will get approval for a drop-box facility that can handle our packer trucks," Fitch said. "With that in mind, we'd either have to go to Orcas, where we'd still be paying $225 a ton plus transit costs, or to Skagit and make that transit, which might be three hours or more plus the cost of the ferry."

Fitch said there's enough money set aside in the reserve account of the town's Refuse Department to finance construction of an enclosure. Those funds are earmarked for "future projects", which have yet to be determined, and Fitch added that the town could be reimbursed by renegotiating the amount the county pays to lease a portion of the town-owned site on Sutton Road. The county currently pays $10 a month.

Still, Fitch is unsure how the Town Council will react, or whether a decision would be reached soon enough given the county's June deadline.

"I think it's going to take an in-depth discussion," Fitch said. "And as they like to say at the county, this is going to be a 'first-touch' for the council on this financing issue."

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