Contentious issue may build a bridge | Editorial

The San Juan Island solid waste transfer station, one of the most contentious issues on the island today, may help bring peace between the town and county governments.

If the county vacates the Sutton Road site for another location, the town could conceivably operate its own waste transfer station. But the state Department of Ecology and the town and county’s joint planning policy discourage the operation of two waste transfer stations on the island.

So, the town and county are drafting letters of intent, pledging to work toward a single solution to the island’s solid waste woes.

This is a major diplomatic move and we applaud it.

Some background: The town owns the solid waste transfer station on Sutton Road and leases it to the county. The county hasn’t been an ideal tenant, as the station’s current condition attests. For several years, the county even failed to pay the token amount it was charged for rent.

At one point, the county offered to buy the site. That prompted the town to buy a site for a public works yard (it stores some of its equipment and materials on Sutton Road). But then the county backed out. If that won’t strain a relationship, what will?

But if the county was not an ideal tenant, the town was a weak landlord. One example: Town Administrator King Fitch said the town inspected the structure around the tipping floor, determined its structural integrity was compromised by damage, and ordered the county to fix it or take it down. Note that the town didn’t order the county to fix it or replace it. So the county, which already had its eyes on moving, took the cheap way out and took the tipping floor cover down, leaving refuse exposed to the open weather.

Fitch compared the situation to a homeowner who rents a house to a tenant. The tenant doesn’t care for the yard. You can’t force the tenant to maintain the yard. You can hire someone to take care of the yard but you can’t add it to the tenant’s rent. If you are dissatisfied, you can ask the tenant to move out. But, Fitch said, where was the county going to go?

Fast forward to Thursday. Both sides were talking peace. Mayor Pro Tem Carrie Lacher, who also chairs the county’s Solid Waste Advisory Council, said the Town Council needed to remember that Friday Harbor is part of the island and is part of the county, and that the Town Council should consider which solution is best for all of the island’s residents.

Councilwoman Carrie Brooks said she believed the letters of intent would help build a relationship of trust between the county and the town.

But County Administrator Pete Rose took that thought one leap further: Letters alone won’t build that trust. “But we need to get on the road and make trust happen.”

Council members Anna Maria de Freitas and Liz Illg said one condition of their letter of intent would be sharing the costs of cleaning the current site – something to which Rose agreed.

There are other issues the town and county will need to work out. But based on the tone of Thursday’s meeting, they are off to a great, and welcome, start.

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