Town and county strike deal at Sutton Road

From left; Bob Jarman

After years of failure to work together and sometimes even hostility, San Juan County and the Town of Friday Harbor buried the hatchet over the lease of the Sutton Road garbage and recycling station owned by the town.

The deal was sealed with “new era of cooperation” T-shirts handed to town and county officials by county Community Development and Planning Director Sam Gibboney at a April 17 joint meeting of the two councils.

Negotiations among the town, the county and Lautenbach Recyling have been ongoing for nearly two years after a town-county selection committee used a “proposal approach” under state law, rather than the usual bidding process, to choose Lautenbach to make a $400,000 investment in equipment and construction costs to turn the Sutton Road drop box into a full-scale commercial tipping floor to unload the town’s garbage trucks.

The long-running saga of what to do with San Juan County garbage moved forward at a county council meeting two days earlier when Gibboney, Public Works Director Frank Mulcahy and the county’s private attorney, James Austin of Seattle, testified and answered questions for nearly two hours.

Gibboney said it was “one of the most complex negotiations” she had ever participated in, and Mulcahy called the entire three-year process “a very difficult challenge” to get waste hauling and recycling facilities operating on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan islands.

Perhaps even more complex is the 84-page operating agreement and the 24-page lease agreement. The operating agreement parties are the county and Lautenbach. The lease agreement is between the town and the county.

Although corruption over garbage hauling prevalent in urban centers like Chicago and New York has never been a problem here, the county has not been immune to high tempers and raised voices in recent years as various “solutions” (including opening a new dump in Beaverton Valley and instituting a special “parcel fee” property tax defeated by the voters, among others) were proposed and discarded.

Under the two agreements approved by both councils, Lautenbach Recycling, which operates a large recycling center in Skagit County, must build a new tipping floor and make improvements to the stormwater handling system at Sutton Road within 18 months of document signing, which is expected before May 1.

The annual lease fee amounts to $15,600, which the town will receive. Lautenbach must also pay the county $4,000 per year to cover county administration costs.

Town Administrator Duncan Wilson maintains the town struck an advantageous deal. Tipping fees for the town-owned garbage trucks, which now travel daily to Skagit County, will be fixed for ten years at $132 per ton, which Wilson says is “just about a wash” taking into account the extra costs of transporting garbage on the ferry.

Maximum tipping fees for self-haulers will be $294 per ton for waste and $142 per ton for recycling, but Lautenbach is authorized to charge a minimum $20 fee. Large commercial haulers such as construction contractors can be charged as much as $194 per ton for waste, with recyclable fees negotiable based on type and quantity of materials. .

Termination of the agreements can be caused by defaulting under one or more clauses of each agreement, and Lautenbach can elect to terminate the agreement and enforce a buyout compensation clause by filing an “Early Termination Notice” 54 months after completing all improvements required by the lease.

The early termination can only occur after a “mid-term review” called for by either Lautenbach or the County.

Troy Lautenbach, president of Lautenbach Industries since he and his brother founded the recycling company in 1991, testified that he and his team are “excited to become part of the part of the San Juan Island community,” he said. “We’re ready to go. It will be business as usual at first, but we’ll soon bring innovation and materials handling efficiency to San Juan Island. Our focus will be on recycling, service to customers and environmental responsibility, which is how we’ve operated on the mainland for over twenty years.”

Town and county signatures on the lease and county council approval of the operating and service agreement are scheduled for early in the week of April 21. Transition of the Sutton Road facility to Lautenbach management is scheduled for late May or early June. The company is planning an open house for the public later in the summer.