Lofty dome signals pending return of ‘transfer station’ status

A 40-foot tall reinforced

The transformation of the San Juan Island solid-waste facility reached a new plateau with the recent installation of an industrial-strength dome, a new slab of concrete below and a buttress of sizable concrete blocks, eight on each side of the 40-foot-wide tipping floor, which serve to anchor it all together.

While the height of the dome, roughly 40-feet from floor to ceiling, may be an eye-opener in itself, it’s just part of the plan.

And, the upgrade underway is actually ahead of schedule, according to Troy Lautenbach, co-owner of Lautenbach Enterprises, the Skagit County-based garbage, recycling and demolition company that assumed control of the Sutton Road site in early June.

“We have 18 months to make the improvements required under our contract and agreement with the county,” Lautenbach said, “We’ve accomplished what we’ve done so far in seven months. It all goes with turning what’s been a ‘drop-box’ facility back into a transfer station.”

Which is what the town of Friday Harbor, as well as many other large-scale local haulers of trash and debris, has been waiting for.

The town, owner of the 26-acre former landfill on Sutton Road, opted a number of years ago to send its trash-haul trucks to the mainland, initially to avoid escalating prices at the solid-waste facility, run at that time by the county, a routine that persisted after the site was converted into a “drop-box-only” operation due, in part, to lingering problems of tainted stormwater run-off and the absence of a cover over the tipping floor.

Administrator Duncan Wilson foresees more efficient, cost-effective use of-town personnel and utility equipment once state and local health inspectors give a final okay on Lautenbach’s improvements, operational plan and then issue the permit to operate the site as a transfer station.

If all goes according to plan, Troy Lautenbach said that final “okay” should soon be in place.

The pending return of transfer station status under a private company signals another step away from what had long-been a county run solid-waste facility. San Juan County handed over operations at Sutton Road to Lautenbach in late spring of 2014 as part of a three-way agreement and 10-year contract with the Skagit company and the town.

Under the contract, Lautenbach is expected to invest roughly $400,000 in upgrades to fix the site’s long-standing pollution problems and comply with state health requirements. The contract provides the town with a fixed-rate for garbage, at $132 per ton, for a decade, as well as an annual lease payment of $15,600.

Much like the Sutton Road site, the former county run solid-waste operation on Orcas Island is now managed by a local non-profit, Orcas Recycling Services, while the Lopez Island Solid Waste Disposal District, a newly created island-wide public entity, now runs the county’s former solid waste operation on Lopez.

With improvements in traffic circulation, expanded hours and the more recent addition of collection of yard debris, such as branches tree limbs, and wood (with exception of “treated” lumber) for recycling, the volume of trash and recycling disposed of at the site has grown and wait times have dropped over the past seven months, Troy Lautenbach said.

Given the list of improvements now in place, the stage is set for growth to continue.

“Being able to use the tipping floor means San Juan Sanitation doesn’t have to go off-island either,” Wilson said. “Both of us are anxious to be using it as soon as possible. Hopefully that might be sometime next week.”