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San Juan Island transfer station to become a self-haul 'drop box' July 5; town and commercial loads will ferry to Orcas

Beginning July 5, the San Juan Island waste transfer station will become a  self-haul
Beginning July 5, the San Juan Island waste transfer station will become a self-haul 'drop box' facility. Packer trucks, including those used by franchise hauler San Juan Sanitation and the Town of Friday Harbor, will have to dump at the Orcas Island transfer station or on the mainland.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen / Journal file

Beginning July 5, the solid waste transfer station on San Juan Island will be open only to self-haulers who can throw their trash directly into a container, similar to the way it is done in the recycling area and at the county drop box facility on Lopez Island.

Packer trucks, including those used by franchise hauler San Juan Sanitation and the Town of Friday Harbor, will have to dump at the Orcas Island transfer station or on the mainland.

The decision to change the San Juan Island solid waste operation was needed after the county and town failed to agree on revisions to the county’s lease for the transfer station property.

Town Administrator King Fitch was out of town Friday and unavailable for comment.

The town, which owns the property, has offered to construct a roof over the transfer station’s tipping floor – one of the basic steps required by the Department of Ecology to renew the variance which allows the facility to operate as a transfer station – but the County Council, after meeting in closed session Tuesday, did not accept the town’s proposed package of changes to the existing lease.

“The problem issues include our need to be able to extend the lease if we encounter delays caused by events beyond our control, the short amount of notice required to terminate the lease, and we have been advised that it would be legally unwise to accept the liability clause,” County Administrator Pete Rose said in a press release. “We think these issues could be resolved, but the deadline is July 1 and we have run out of time.”

Rose said the county had been advised that it would be “legally unwise” to accept the liability clause because of provisions in the county's agreement with the risk pool, which provides the county’s liability coverage.

San Juan County solid waste utility manager Steve Alexander expects the change will have little immediate effect on individuals who haul their own trash to the station. “For them, the only noticeable difference is that they will toss their trash directly into the container,” he said in the press release. Currently, self-haulers dump their refuse onto the tipping floor; county workers use heavy equipment to push the refuse into the box.

There will be some additional physical effort involved. For safety reasons, a barrier is required to prevent self-haul vehicles from backing up too far and to prevent customers from falling into the container, so people will have to toss their trash over the barrier — a "relatively low" barrier, according to county communications director Stan Matthews.

Because some solid waste utility personnel will have to be shifted to the Orcas Island facility to handle its increased load of commercial and municipal trucks, the San Juan Island facility’s operating schedule is expected to change over time, but initially self-haul customers will be accommodated on the existing schedule. Any self-haul schedule changes will be publicized in advance.

Representatives of the county Public Works Department have met with the town’s Solid Waste Department and San Juan Sanitation to discuss how to cope with the changes in the solid waste utility’s operations. The town conducted a test run last month, unloading at the county facility on Orcas Island. At the time, its utility officials saw the biggest problem as the amount of time personnel and expensive hauling equipment would be out of service while traveling and waiting to board the ferry.

Rose said it is impossible to say how long operations will need to continue this way. “Our first step is to get back to the table and try to arrive at an agreement with the town on the lease and construction of the tipping floor cover. Then we will have to convince the Department of Ecology and our Health Department that we are making serious progress toward building a fully compliant replacement facility.”

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