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More island control is needed for solid waste | Guest Column
by GEORGE POST
This issue is not the result of public complaints. Remember, we have a waste system that allows us to haul our own garbage to our public transfer stations or have it picked up by the private franchise hauler, San Juan Sanitation. This proposition was put on the ballot by the County Council because they can no longer avoid the long-known fact that funding our waste system solely with income from the volume of garbage we export does not work and that some form of public funding is required.
Over the past 30 years, there have been multiple recommendations from both the Solid Waste Advisory Committee and county staff to the commissioners and council persons to address this fundamental funding flaw, but they all hoped that another tipping fee increase or service decrease would keep them from having to ask the citizens to help fund their own waste system. Had we all chipped in even a fraction of the $100/year from the beginning we would never have amassed today’s deficit.
We long ago abandoned the national, state and county goals of reducing the amount of waste we export, after all, that is our source of income. Curiously, all of the surveys and public meetings around county waste policy indicate a high level of support for reuse, recycling, self hauling, hazardous waste programs and ecological concerns. Why is it that one of the wealthiest, lowest taxed, politically progressive, self governed, environmentally aware communities anywhere is unable to successfully fund and manage its most basic public service?
First and foremost, we are not one community. We are separate, rural, island communities each with its unique facilities and social characteristics. So we require multiple transfer stations and transportation costs are higher and we need additional waste capacity to accommodate seasonal tourists. Like gas and food, waste too costs more than in other places. Thinking it can be otherwise is foolishness and has led us to this funding crisis.
Our island parochialism also keeps us from acting together in our collective best interests. Some on Lopez would like to go it alone, with the county’s facilities and its “Take it or Leave It.” Orcas has the Exchange, a transfer station and ample space for more reduction opportunities. San Juan is pretty much wedded to the town’s facility, such as it is, and their limitations are threatening to become everyone’s. These differences are real and suggest that more island control is needed, but privatization will result in nothing left to control, especially waste reduction efforts. We need to keep our waste system in public hands, fund it adequately and, yes, see that it serves our needs.
If we are willing because of past mistakes to abandon our community infrastructure investment and our waste reduction goals and trade them for the profit motives of a trucking company, what does that reveal about our future ability as a county to adapt to challenges to our collective best interests?
George Post lives in Olga. He was on the Solid Waste Advisory Committee for 20 years.