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Town Council will consider financing tipping floor enclosure at May 27 special meeting

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

— This version corrects the amount paid by the county to lease the solid waste transfer station. The amount is $10 a year.

The Friday Harbor Town Council will have a special meeting May 27, noon at Town Hall to discuss the County Council's request that the town finance the construction of a structure around the tipping floor at the solid waste transfer station on Sutton Road.

The transfer station property is owned by the town. The county leases the site and operates the transfer station. The tipping floor is the concrete floor where garbage is dumped and then pushed into the bed of a long-haul truck. The old tipping floor cover was removed in about 2006, leaving refuse exposed to weather and resulting in polluted stormwater runoff.

Since the tipping floor roof was removed, the facility has operated under a succession of variances from the state Department of Ecology, but Ecology has said it will not approve another variance and wants deficiencies at the site fixed.

With a deadline drawing near, the County Council sent a letter to the Town Council asking that it consider financing the construction of a tipping floor cover, to avoid turning the transfer station into a drop-box facility.

The Town Council meeting went late May 20 and, since the county's request was a non-agenda item, Mayor Carrie Lacher recommended that the item be placed on a special meeting agenda to allow for time for council discussion.

She indicated support for the idea.

"I am thrilled that a viable solution has been found," she said.

In an earlier interview, Town Administrator King Fitch said there's reason to believe that the Town Council may grant the county's request.

The town 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, he said. 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 town Refuse Department's reserve account to finance construction of a tipping floor enclosure. 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 year. The county also leases month-to-month, for $240 a month, an additional 4,000 square feet. That space was initially leased for recycling, but is now used for equipment storage.

"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."

Public Works Director Jon Shannon said it would cost up to $200,000 to design, engineer and construct the tipping floor cover. 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 scheduled 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.

— Reporting by Scott Rasmussen and Richard Walker

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