Opinion

Let islanders vote on waste transfer station location | Guest Column

By Juniper Maas

As a community member, potential neighbor to the Beaverton Valley Road site, and avid SWAC meeting attender for over three years, I am writing this in response to the latest SWAC meeting -- the last meeting before the SWAC recommendation goes out to the County Council for the proposed site of the new transfer station to be built at the Beaverton Valley Road property.

Please educate yourselves to a seldom-printed portion of the history and background of this project by reading my response below.

First of all, while one news article strongly mentions the opposition of certain SWAC members and their relation to Beaverton Valley Road, it is also important to mention the fact that there are Sutton Road/Hillview Terrace dwellers that are SWAC members as well. Having been a mainstay at nearly all of these meetings, it is very clear where the members stand -- and all for good reasons, some personal, some moral.

Just because SWAC Chairman George Post declares that the people who think the site should stay where it is are saying that for the wrong reason does not make it true, nor newsworthy. Frankly, George has bullied those meetings for a long time and whenever someone has something legitimate to say about fixing the current site -- the fact that we have an amazing recycling center already (Consignment Treasures) or, God forbid, extreme negative impacts on a new piece of land -- it's as if his ears had eyelids. They shut, he refuses to take it in or digest it at all, all the while clenching his fists and feverishly raising his voice, saying no, no, no, it will not work. I call that complete ignorance and hypocrisy.

What about the reduce, reuse, recycle mentality? A cool $600,000 plus has been spent on "studies" alone. It's a sad disgusting waste of money, if you ask me. That money could have easily put a new roof on the tipping floor, built a lean-to or two for steel, metal, copper, electronics and appliances, and built another average-sized metal Texmo building for hazardous waste, etc.

If you go to the Exchange on Orcas Island, they just have the stuff hanging from branches in the trees, and that is FREE! In a time when people are being laid off left and right, we should be ashamed of even thinking of dropping multi-millions of dollars on a new facility, when we have other options and resources if we just use a little more ingenuity.

Maybe it's time to take a look at the powers-that-be controlling this messy waste of taxpayers' dollars. Anyone who does a thorough investigation of this charade over the past few years can see a crooked web of lies, spins and downright poor management -- starting with the tearing down of the tipping floor roof, which Jon Shannon chose to do rather than repair.

Jon Shannon and Public Works have had the Beaverton Valley Road property in mind for a transfer station long before the public had any idea. I am sure you have all heard us Beaverton Valley Road whiners talk about how slighted and full of fear we are because of the less-than-transparent process of the property purchase and use intention.

Before the property was purchased, a group of Beaverton Valley Road neighbors sat on the porch of Nancy and Willie Jo Cavanaugh's (r.i.p.) while Jon Shannon and Kevin Ranker pointed out to the pristine wetlands straddling both the Beaverton Valley and False Bay watersheds, saying this is where the new dump is going to be. Outraged, terrified, full of disbelief (anyone would feel this way), we all started asking questions.

The question four years later still ringing in my ears is when Dave Hall said, "Wait, wait, everyone" and got everyone's attention and silence, then asked Ranker -- and I quote -- "So, basically this is a done deal and the only way to stop it is to sue you." Quote Ranker, "Yes."

The property seller, David McCauley, made out like a bandit as well, selling the portion of the property to the county for more than a million dollars over what he paid for it, meanwhile putting a slew of covenants and restrictions on the property. A couple of the bordering neighbors delayed paying their land taxes in an attempt to get their bearings about them and slow the process down and make it more transparent (a deal like this can't go through if there are unpaid neighboring taxes). Enter McCauley, who graciously paid the elderly people's taxes against their wishes. The moral of that story is the rich get richer by avoiding taxes and trampling on the little people. The list of cover-ups and spins go on and on.

As far as all this chatter about NIMBYs, it is a very real and human reaction: We are talking about a garbage dump here; about the only worse thing would be a sewer plant. I find it extremely non-islander like of all the folks living near the current site who wish for it to be moved rather than fixed up. If only they could see themselves; I guess the greed has made them go blind.

They are there at every SWAC meeting -- taking notes with twinkles in their eyes when points are made in favor of relocation, and frustrated frowns when points for fixing up the current site are made. They are ready to sue (and have already) if any talk or motion of expansion at the current facility takes place. Let us not forget, they chose and were fully aware of their neighbor, the dump (and probably got a really cheap deal on the land because of it).

I find it ridiculous when they say it can't be done at the current site; where there is a will there is a way. Those in opposition say, "It's on a slope, it won't work," "There is an old landfill there." One of the greatest cities in the world was built on a landfill and is quite hilly as well: San Francisco.

Another point that somehow manages to be swept under the rug is the fact that the town can still operate a transfer station there if they wish. They have a myriad of options, especially if the price is right. They could end up contracting with Roche Harbor and, of course, their own trash service. Why would the town go pay high rates at the "Bigger, Better, Faster, More" transfer station when they could use their own?

Isn't it backward logic to create an expensive high-tech transfer station that caters to a wasteful society, making it convenient for people to not have to think about their waste with their purchase? I personally think the more progressive approach is to start at bottom with education. So what if people have to wait in line on a Saturday to dump their garbage? Maybe the less convenient it is, they will take a moment to realize what they are doing and think about reduction.

As far as a recycling center like "The Re-Store," you can just check that one off the list -- do your homework and check out the Friday Harbor Fire Department Thrift House or Consignment Treasures on Roche Harbor Road.

The issues of cost and safety are very real (another thing that George Post doesn't want to consider). The amount of traffic that will be diverted to Beaverton Valley Road is huge. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement states that it will be prohibitively expensive to construct at the Beaverton Valley Road site because of the amount of work needed to be done to the road (including paving No. 2 Schoolhouse Road). We are talking about a mostly rural road with a few low-impact businesses.

Many of the guests at my inn choose to walk or bike to town as I, myself, do as well on a regular basis. Beaverton Valley Road is a skinny road with not much of a shoulder. Even Kevin Ranker can attest to that as he was hit by a car on his bicycle less than a mile from the proposed Beaverton Valley Road site. I can attest, as well, that it is a bona fide fact that planes fly in low right over the proposed Beaverton Valley Road site as they come in from the south to make a landing. I see it all the time. That is why the FAA and all of the local pilots are in extreme opposition to this site selection.

I feel strongly that if this were to go to an island-wide vote, the vote would be to keep the transfer station where it is and fix it up to serve islanders better and lessen the impact on current neighbors. I also believe that the recommendation from SWAC in no way reflects what San Juan County resident taxpayers want.

I encourage the County Council to develop a referendum so that islanders can have a say on this extremely hot-button issue.

— Juniper Maas owns and operates Juniper Lane Guest House on Beaverton Valley Road.

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