05/03/2012: "-- Guest Column --"
By Mike MacDonald
As a veteran of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee who wearied of banging his head against the department of Public Works’ arrogance and lack of respect for the taxpayers, I urge you to vote NO on the solid waste charge.
There has been some recent progress towards a more rational trash system. A yes vote to extend funding for those who wrecked the current system is a step backwards.
Many voters are not familiar with some of the details of how we got into this mess. I know the majority wants a fair, logical, efficient process to dispose of our trash. Here are some reasons why the county administration and the PW staff are not worthy of your trust to continue their management.
“The past is never dead,” wrote William Faulkner. “It’s not even past.”
In any well-run municipal government, I believe the former San Juan County director of public works and the current solid waste senior management would have been terminated for cause.
That cause would be the astounding ineptitude and systematic false statements made about the condition of the Beaverton Valley property purchased by the county without proper due diligence or an accurate real estate appraisal.
In April 2009, a group of Lampard Road area residents including this writer took county council members Pratt, Peterson, and Rosenfeld to the exact location where the Public Works department proposed building a new multi-million-dollar transfer station.
Plainly visible was an illegal refuse dump containing asbestos, electronic and electrical debris, and containers that held petroleum and other toxic waste.
The property was appraised at $1.5 million in May 2005. Appraiser Terry Dorn warned the county, “The presence of contaminates such as asbestos or PCB may affect the value of the property. The value herein is predicted on the assumption that there is no such material on or in the property…
“I strongly recommend that they request, at a minimum, a Phase I Environmental Audit be performed.”
On a May 25, 2005 timeline, Shannon wrote “May 31st. Phase I ESA complete or waived.”
In all subsequent written or oral mention of the Phase I Environmental Audit, PW staff said it had been completed and the property was suitable for development.
On July 19, 2005, San Juan County paid $1.8 million for the property.
Our visit was a direct challenge to PW director Shannon’s recent false statement to the council that a Phase One environmental study had been completed on the property.
The toxic waste the council members observed belied every public statement and report made by PW staff and the hired gun consultants. Taxpayers paid for over $660,000 in consultant reports, including an immensely flawed Environmental Impact Study that somehow missed the toxic waste dump hidden in plain sight. Incredibly, this dump was under the footprint of the proposed complex.
That public money might as well have been burned. Thousands of hours of staff, SWAC, and private citizen’s time had been wasted on a false premise. The entire site selection process was a fraud, a dog and pony show. Very expensive mendacity prevailed.
Even more troubling, in every public statement, PW staff assured the public and the council that all due diligence had been scrupulously performed. The citizens and the council had been duped.
We asked the council members if this gross betrayal of the public trust meant that those responsible for the false reports and statements were incompetent or misfeasant. Were some of their most senior staff fools or liars?
The council members said they’d get back to me. Two years later, I’m still waiting for an answer. County administrator Pete Rose acknowledged that errors and misstatements had been committed, then swept the affair under the rug.
Why would Rose and the council refuse to thoroughly investigate such blatant behavior by the PW staff? One reason might be the closer one looked, the dirtier this deal became. Multiple elected and appointed officials charged with protecting the public purse and complying with state law appear to have failed their duty. The unacknowledged toxic waste dump was an apt metaphor for the moral and ethical operating conditions of the trash process.
While this was going on, the fiscal condition of the solid waste department was quietly going to hell. PW concealed the severity until after the council voted to keep the transfer station where it was.
The Solid Waste Advisory Committee, of which I was a member for a time, was told to butt out of finances. Previously, the monthly receipts and expenses of the trash operation had been reported to SWAC. This reporting was terminated.
When asked how the county could afford a new five to six million-dollar trash complex, then SWAC chair George Post said, “Don’t worry about the cost. They’ll find some way to pay for it.”
Now the current council has crafted an immensely flawed and unfair solid waste user fee that asks some taxpayers to finance the same failed course.
Rarely has one little box on a ballot held so much promise.
I hope the voters send a clear message to the council, who has much responsibility and little authority in this matter.
Not only no, but hell no.
False dealing and trimming the facts to support a pre-determined decision has no place in San Juan County. Perhaps Rose and the second floor clique might also get the message.
It would be a first step to weaken the culture of mendacity that has long soured this county government. A no vote is a vote to restore integrity, honesty, and comity to our civic affairs.
As for the future, SWAC member and San Juan Sanitation manager Calvin Den Hartog told me that private management of the trash system would reduce costs, improve service, and maintain recycling and self-haul.
Calvin also said he expected several private businessmen to bid on running a transfer station, if that came to pass.
I found Calvin to be a thoughtful, knowledgeable, and fair SWAC member. I believe him.
Thor Black told me he thought he could run the transfer station at lower cost and offer more services than the county does now.
Some public officials have attempted to frighten the voters into maintaining this failed system.
Many San Juan voters have restored old boats or houses. When faced with dry rot, you must cut back to good wood before beginning repairs. Short cuts and half measures are false economy. Trowling more rouge on the corpse inevitably leads to continued failure.
Please vote NO on the solid waste charge.