10/27/2008: "Point and Counter Point: Self-Haul Garbage"
To the Editor:
In a recent column ("Reasonable Alternatives") Gordy Petersen wrote that “if we cut traffic in half the need for a new facility goes away” and that “traffic volumes could be reduced tomorrow ... if curbside service was promoted and there were better incentives to use it,” among other things. This statement should seriously concern the high proportion of transfer station users who for various good reasons strongly prefer self-hauling over curbside service.
In a meeting with a group of homeowners Mr. Petersen explained that “better incentives” meant, not making curbside service mandatory, but instead charging the private firm that provides it below-cost rates at the transfer station with the expectation that it in turn would pass the savings on to its customers, and paying for these below-cost rates by charging the self-haulers above-cost rates. Thus, the carrot would be cheaper curbside service and the stick would be costlier self-hauling.
This scheme might as well be mandatory curbside service. In order to maintain the low cost of curbside service when the number of self-haulers significantly diminishes, as Mr. Petersen intends, the self-hauling rate would have to increase astronomically, and ultimately the cheaper prices that helped convert self-haulers to curbside service would have to be raised. In other words, the scheme is actually a scam.
Nor will cutting traffic in half make the need for a new facility go away, whether or not at the present Sutton Road site. Not only a new recycling facility and a composting area are required, which are the other things cited by Mr. Petersen, but also, to comply with State law, a roof over the tipping floor and structures for controlling runoff.
Enlarging the tipping floor to fit the semitrailer bins and pulling rather than backing the bins into position, as the County desires, is not building “the Rolls Royce of new Solid Waste Facilities,” as Mr. Petersen put it. Rather, they would significantly increase handling capacity and reduce operating expense over the long term.
San Juan Island
I would like to take the opportunity to comment on some statements in the letter by Mr. Shreve. We could have saved several million if we had a community dialogue on this topic a few years ago.
There is already a disparity in the rates that the County charges for solid waste. Here are the facts and I will stand behind them. Self-haul rates are presently set at $278.00 per ton. Cost to the contract hauler for the County is set at $190.00 per ton, and the Town of Friday Harbor is somewhat less (some misc. taxes may apply). Today on San Juan Island it costs about a dollar more per can to self-haul than it costs to have it picked up at your house. I have stated that this incentive can be increased. I stand by that statement.
Mr. Shreve makes the following assertion without any reasons to back it up:
“In order to maintain the low cost of curbside service when the number of self-haulers significantly diminishes, the self-hauling rate would have to increase astronomically, and ultimately the cheaper prices that helped convert self-haulers to curbside service would have to be raised.”
This is simply not true. As the number of curbside customers increases the need for spending millions on a new transfer station facility will actually decrease. Here’s why.
One garbage truck can compact and carry the trash from 200-250 homes. If you take away this many trips per day from the existing site we won’t need a new transfer station. The old one will do just fine. The hours of operation at the existing facility would go down to a minimum. The need to staff and maintain the facility will be greatly diminished. Traffic and safety problems will decrease or become insignificant. Carbon footprints will be reduced and the environment will be protected from the impacts of another toxic dumpsite. The only reason self-haul rates could “increase astronomically” is if we spend another 6-7 million on a new facility (primarily for self-haulers) and the Town removes their cash flow contribution from the operation.
Economies of scale for the contract hauler will mean that existing routes will be more efficient. Trucks already run regular schedules and if more customers use the service the fixed costs will remain constant or increase slightly but will actually reduce the cost of service. Rates would not have to increase to serve more customers. This increase in service will also have the side benefit of reducing the need to self-haul recyclables. This service could easily be added if curbside service is expanded.
The Washington State Utilities Commission governs garbage rates. A contractor can’t arbitrarily raise rates. The oversight of this Commission and their audits are very strict. The justification for any increase must be well documented in a public process and it is unlikely that the service fees will increase.
As far as I know the County is not required to provide a “composting area”. It would be much more efficient and cost effective for the County to provide composting bins and teach people how to use them at home for yard waste and kitchen scraps. If we used the money we have already spent studying the “relocation” of the dump on home composting techniques we could buy everyone a gold-plated bin and by now we could have produced hundreds of yards of productive soil.
I agree that the tipping floor needs a cover. It should have been repaired or rebuilt instead of torn down. The decision to tear it down and not replace it immediately was wrong.
Finally, I used the term “Rolls Royce of solid waste facilities”. I admit that this description was incorrect. At the last SWAC meeting it became clear that we are planning the “Sistine Chapel” of trash handling facilities. This is the new preferred language.