Sunday February 7, 2016

Work Begins on Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Plan

As San Juan County begins an intensive effort to revise its Solid Waste Management Plan, the County’s system of handling and disposing of garbage, recycling and solid waste finds itself surrounded by controversy.

The solid waste utility is running in the red, the County Council has just approved a 14% increase in tipping fees, the Town of Friday Harbor has backed out of its offer to sell the County land for a planned new transfer station, there is currently no revenue source to pay for the more than $2.5 million dollars in planned and needed capital improvements county-wide, there are calls for more local control of waste disposal systems on Lopez and Orcas Islands; and major contracts for hauling, recycling, and disposal of waste will be up for renewal within the next two years.

The County solid waste utility will spend more than $18 million on operations and capital projects over the next six years and, despite two failed attempts in recent years, the County has not completed and adopted a long overdue update to its Solid and Hazardous Waste Management Plan (SWMP).
“Because of all the important decisions that have to be made and the amount of money that will be spent over the next few years, it is imperative that we know what services our customers want and how those services can be paid for,” said Steve Alexander, Solid Waste Program Manager for the County.
Alexander added, “The state requires us to adopt a plan, but even if it didn’t, we would be foolish not to do an updated plan.”

Alexander and Solid Waste Planner Elizabeth Anderson appeared before the Council on May 26 to outline the work which will be done as the plan is drafted. The work includes seeking public guidance through a county-wide survey, meetings with civic and stakeholder groups, general public meetings, and opportunities to provide input and feedback in writing and online.

A new section of the County’s web site has been devoted to the solid waste management plan. Information about the planning process, notices of events, notes from meetings, draft portions of the plan and related documents will be posted as the planning proceeds. The web address is:

The Council’s initial response to its first look at the SWMP planning process was wary. Council Member Howie Rosenfeld expressed concern about the potential expense and the estimate that the process could take 18 months to two years to complete. The Council as a whole indicated that it wanted to hear more before approving the SWMP public involvement plan.

“We quoted the 2 year time frame because the Department of Ecology told us that is how long it has taken in other counties,” Alexander said. “As we get further into the planning process, we will see if it is possible to complete the plan more quickly, but we need to do this right.”

With a nod toward the financial challenges and controversies the solid waste system now faces, he added, “If we do this right, we will be able to move forward with the confidence that we are doing what the people of San Juan County want us to do.”

Citizens seeking more information about how their views on the solid waste management system and any improvements they would recommend can be heard can contact Elizabeth Anderson 360 370-0531.