Opinion

It's time to cut the cord on the Sutton Road site | Guest Column

By Jeff Webster

In 1979, Beckwith and Associates conducted a study on siting solid waste processing on San Juan Island. Where are we 30 years down the road? Still talking about siting solid waste processing. Why has it taken so long when Orcas and Lopez have had exemplary solid waste transfer station sites?

In a nutshell, we have long since outgrown the site at Sutton Road but every time changes in siting or expanding are proposed neighborhood groups come out of the woodwork to vociferously oppose them. Politically, it's a can of worms.

In 2001-02, the Hillview Terrace Homeowners Association worked with the County Commission to improve the current site at Sutton Road. Every proposal seemed to go nowhere as environmental concerns and lawsuits from neighbors seemed to throttle the process. Specifically, the environmental issues had to do with the former landfill from decades back that was capped supposedly by EPA regulations in 1994.

There were major questions unresolved: Was the landfill completely covered and what was the quality of the runoff?

Then the county bought acreage on Beaverton Valley Road zoned RGU (Rural General Use) that includes 25 usable, flat acres and can accommodate all its needs for a possible transfer station and any expansion in the future.

I spoke with a County Council member, a proponent of the Sutton Road site, and asked him if the county's long-range needs would be met with the Sutton Road site. His answer was "Barely."

So, let me get this straight: If the county is going to spend an estimated $5 million in improvements on the site, why would it take the risk of doing it on a site that is barely big enough when it already has a site that is more than adequate? Now, everyone who has done any project of any size knows that there are always ample things happening that are not expected.

My next question for the councilman, who has a long and close history with town government, was, "How do we know that the landlord, the town, will let the county do what it needs to do?" His answer was, "It will be no problem negotiating a lease for 50 to 100 years."

Now, I've been here for more than 20 years and I can't recall a single instance of smooth negotiations between the town and the county. In fact, you can bet money that negotiations will be long, nasty and brutish. Meanwhile, the county already owns the Beaverton Valley Road site and can do what it wants there.

The next move came from the councilman: He said the SWAC report was a "circus to satisfy EPA requirements." Sir, the SWAC report was the work of long hours of painstaking research done by citizens with no pay, outlining in detail just why the Beaverton Valley Road site is best. I'm really sorry you dismiss their efforts so cavalierly.

It's time for the council to finally cut the cord on the Sutton Road site and make an investment in a first-class site that allows room for

expansion and new ideas down the road. It's a question of leadership — does the council just want to kick the can down the road again or do it have the courage to rise above the NIMBY chatter and include future generations in its decision?

— Jeff Webster is a former president of the Hillview Terrace Homeowners Association but is no longer living in Hillview Terrace. He is also a former member of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee.

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