Valley residents wanted to talk trash
Pitkin County’s solid waste manager is hoping to put together a citizen committee to help with decisions on pressing issues facing the county’s landfill and recycling program.
Solid Waste Manager Miles Stotts made his proposal to the county commissioners Tuesday. Questions that would be put to the volunteer board include whether to push for a regional solid waste authority and whether to prevent haulers from moving waste to landfill sites outside the county. Perhaps the most important question, Stotts said, is should the county allow a private contractor to take over recycling operations?
Such a committee was convened in 1997 and 1998 to confirm citizen support for the recycling and composting programs now in effect at the landfill and to help with decisions on improvements for those programs. The new advisory group, like the previous one, would be made up of about 12 people who would meet informally.
Stotts said a regional solid waste authority or district has been discussed for some time. Currently, Valley Resource Management serves in an educational role and researches solutions for disposal and recycling questions.
In addition to those functions, a regional authority might provide service in the way that a sewer district does, Stotts said. State statutes exist that would enable the creation of such a district.
A regional authority would be able to exert more regulatory control on trash haulers. It might also help to prevent a corporation from hauling trash – and the associated revenue – out of the area, as was suggested by a Utah corporation earlier this year.
“I think it’s important that we put that one out there,” Stotts said.
Another issue that needs to be addressed, Stotts said, is “flow control,” which means requiring that all waste and recyclables collected in Pitkin County be brought to the Pitkin County landfill. If the county makes investments in solid waste management improvements, Stotts said, and haulers take materials out of the county to avoid tipping fees, there’s no guarantee the county’s financial obligations will be met.
Revenues at the landfill have been declining for the past two years, Stotts said. Though the department is still doing well, things could change if the trend continues.
Tipping fees support several programs, including much of the county’s recycling efforts, the household hazardous waste program, the Rio Grande Park drop-off site, and worm bins in school classrooms.
“At some point, if they continue to take waste out of the county, it’s going to hurt our ability to continue our programs,” Stotts said.
He said that at one point the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that flow control could not be practiced because it interferes with interstate commerce. But more recent court decisions in Maine and Iowa have concluded that communities should have more control, he said.
But county deputies probably won’t be seen pulling over garbage trucks at the county border. “Somehow, I can’t see taking it to that level,” Stotts said. Flow control would be tied to a licensing program for trash haulers, he said.
Whether or not to turn the county’s recycling over to a private company is a question with some merit on both sides, Stotts said.
“We certainly have to look at it,” he said. Allied Waste Systems, an independent contractor, has requested permission to submit a proposal to take over handling the material that comes to the county’s recycling program and haul it to a materials recovery plant in Grand Junction.
Eagle County now pays $120,000 annually for such a service. Stotts said Pitkin County should consider this sort of plan because it would decrease cost to the county, and because sorting and baling equipment at the landfill is aging.
But privatizing recycling would render useless some recent investments in paving and a loading dock at the county’s recycling buildings, Stotts said. And the county would lose control of how recycling is done and, in fact, whether it is done. Some recyclable materials could conceivably end up in a landfill.
These and other questions would keep a solid waste advisory committee busy, Stotts said.
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