Is the Orcas Transfer Station a “time bomb” or a “resource”?
That’s the question that defined the perspective of the main speakers at a public meeting on Friday, July 27 to answer questions regarding Orcas Recycle Services (ORS)/The Exchange proposal to the County for management of the Orcas Transfer Station.
Mark DeTray, Manager of the Exchange and Pete Moe, Chair of the ORS/The Exchange Board of Directors, presented charts and graphics at the Friday evening meeting and discussed the proposal they submitted to the Council on July 13 for operation of the Orcas transfer station. Cimarron Enterprises was the only other entity that submitted a proposal, which included an agreement with San Juan Sanitation Company to haul island garbage at a rate of $154/ton tipping fees. (The proposed rate does not include county excise tax, currently 10%, nor the state refuse tax of 3.6%. In addition, Cimarron has offered a 3% rebate on gross profits to the County).
The Orcas transfer station, located on county property – as is the Exchange recycling center – is the only operating transfer station in the county. In its entirety, it takes up six parcels and has shown a gross income of $2,000,000 in recent years, Moe has said previously.
The County is in the process of privatizing operations and extracting itself from the solid waste disposal and recycling business. It is negotiating for separate operations on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Islands.
Though San Juan Sanitation, a private business, did not submit a proposal for management of the Orcas Transfer Station, the garbage-hauling business is a key player in the process. San Juan Sanitation has been hauling San Juan Island waste to the Orcas transfer station since the San Juan transfer site was closed a year ago, and has been collecting solid waste on Orcas, and is scheduled to begin “curbside” pickup for those islanders who choose not to haul their own waste to the transfer station.
DeTray and Moe explained that the cash flow obtained from operating the transfer station will allow ORS to develop yard waste recycling, construction waste recycling, and other recycling operations. By developing organic waste processes alone, it is estimated that Orcas waste shipping to the mainland would decrease by 12 percent, DeTray said.
Sadie Bailey, a landscape gardener, brought up that currently islanders pay to “dump” organic waste that is then hauled off the island, and pay again when it is returned to the island as compost soil.
Dan Liedecker, co-owner of San Juan Sanitation Company which operates on all ferry-served islands, told the group on Friday, July 27 that SJ Sanitation had signed an agreement with Cimarron to haul route-collected waste to the Orcas transfer station at the rate of $154/ton , far below what the county currently charges.
Leidecker said that his garbage and recycling business on Gravel Pit Road on Orcas Island had been denied a transfer operation permit in 1994 “because the County said, ‘It’s our responsibility.’ I sued, but the Superior Court [prevailed] and put the County in the garbage business.
“This is big business. The big guys play this game,” Leidecker said. He warned the assembly, “The site is an environmental time bomb.
“As rookies, I’m telling you, you can’t do it. The $2,000,000 gross [in operating the transfer station] is deceiving. Cimarron has high-priced engineers and environmental planners… I wouldn’t venture into that.”
“The Exchange is a big part of the problem,” Leidecker said. “I wouldn’t continue to operate the Exchange on that site.”
Leidecker described SJ Sanitation’s 20-year relationship with Cimarron (which sub-contracts to Waste Management, the international solid-waste and recycling company that currently operates the recycling center in Woodinville and solid waste site in Eastern Oregon where Orcas waste is hauled). Leidecker said SJ Sanitation had “signed a letter of intent with Cimarron that gives five years to demonstrate they can keep the rates” [at their proposed levels].
Leidecker said SJ Sanitation is regulated as a utility by Washington state which sets “a 7% earnings cap before taxes.”
Now, Leidecker said, San Juan Sanitation will “certainly talk with [ORS]. But I have three options: to go with the new management, to activate my transfer station; or to go to the mainland.”
Michael Aley, Orcas Island Freight Lines owner, said that Orcas Freight has licenses for hauling trash, though it is not currently in that business. If San Juan Sanitation were to withdraw from serving the Orcas transfer station, Aley said, “that would open it up to other competitors.”
Moe and DeTray repeated that, under their proposal, ORS would retain the two county employees who have over 20 years’ experience working at the Orcas transfer station. ORS has budgeted $10,000 in insurance costs per year, well over what it was quoted by the insurance provider. “Regulatory agencies have not expressed great concern about the sites,” they countered Leidecker’s assertion that the tipping site is “an environmental time bomb.”
Moe pointed out that environmental liability rests with the County because it holds the lease on the land, which will cost the managing entity (whether Cimarron or ORS), $7,000 per year.
Bern Shank, Deer Harbor resident who was formerly Director of Portland Metro, a five-county solid waste management agency, and professor in the Environmental Department at UC/Davis, said, “In my experience, [both government and private businesses] want the waste to make money: the simplest solution is to take it to landfills,” which he described as “waste tombs.”
“Yes, it’s simpler and appears to be cheaper to ship solid waste elsewhere, but these are resources. The Exchange can involve hundreds of people instead of shipping waste off to landfills,” said Shank. ” The ORS proposal, he said, could “keep expertise on the site and control in the local economy.”
The Friday night meeting was called following a successful campaign by Orcas Islanders to delay a decision on awarding the contract, which the County Council had been scheduled to approve on Tuesday, July 24, following the recommendation of the Vendor Selection Committee. That recommendation, issued on July 20, was in favor of awarding the contract to Cimarron.
Council members and the Vendor Selection Committee are in the process of formulating questions to both Cimarron and ORS to further explain their proposals. (There will be a public meeting of the Vendor Selection Committee on Monday, July 30 at 3:30 p.m. in the Orcas Public Library).