Monday, January 5, 2009

Proposed Changes to San Juan Island Disposal Site has Some Islanders Hopping Mad- $600,000 Spent on Studies to Date

On Nov. 14, 2006, the San Juan County Council asked Public Works to work with SWAC (Solid Waste Advisory Committee)  to "move forward with the formal SEPA discussion for siting of a solid waste facility on San Juan Island to strive to include... (1) Municipal solid waste transfer; (2) Collection, transfer and storage of recyclable materials; (3) Selfhauling of both solid waste and recyclable materials; (4) Household hazardous waste collection and storage; (5) Waste exchange; (6) Construction, demolition and land clearing debris recycling; and (7) Green waste. And over the past two years the County’s solid waste utility has spent more than a half million dollars on studies and an environmental impact statement covering five potential sites for a new transfer station and resource recovery facility.

Two years, one month and two weeks after being assigned the task of recommending a site for the San Juan Island transfer station, the county Solid Waste Advisory Committee provided their "findings."  The Island Guardian ran a story on December 30, 2008- regarding changes to our current solid waste disposal site that are apparently imminent. The story indicates that the SJI SWAC is expected to formally approve a recommendion to the County Council on January 12 that a new solid waste transfer station be constructed next to Beaverton Valley Road on San Juan Island. The committee passed around a draft recommendation (pdf 678\k file) -no copies were made available at the meeting for the public- that will serve as the starting point for a final recommendation to the County Council. 

Within hours of the story, this ongoing controversy that appears to be coming to a head of sorts, sparked strong opinions in many islanders- the same islanders who will be paying for the proposed transfer to an entirely new site. Please keep in mind the current site is located on Here's a sampling from Juniper Maas, a lifelong San Juan Island resident :

Having been a mainstay at nearly all of the SWAC meetings for the past three years it is very clear where the members stand, and all for good reasons some personal, some moral.  George Post (Chair of SWAC) declares that the people who think the site should stay where it is, are saying it for the wrong reasons.  George has bullied those meetings for a long time and whenever someone has something legitimate to say about fixing the current site, the fact that we have an amazing recycling center already (Consignment Treasures), or, god forbid, extreme negative impacts on a new piece of land...his ears shut, he refuses to take it in or digest it at all, all the while clenching his fists and feverishly raising his voice saying no, no, no, it will not work. 

What about the reduce, REUSE, recycle mentality. George does have good intention as far as his vision, but he just isn't doing his research, or keeping an open mind. A cool $600,000 plus has been spent on "studies" alone.  That money could have easily put a new roof on the (current facility) tipping floor, built a lean-to or two for steal, metal, copper, electronics, appliances, and built another average sized metal Texmo building for hazardous waste etc. In a time when people are being laid off left and right we should be ashamed of even thinking of dropping multi-millions of dollars on a new facility, when we have other options and resources if we just use a little more ingenuity.

Maybe its time to take a look at the powers that be controlling this messy waste of taxpayers dollars.

Anyone who does a thorough investigation of this charade over the past few years can see a crooked web of lies, spins, and down right poor management. Starting with the tearing down of the tipping floor roof which Jon Shannon CHOSE to do rather than repair. Jon Shannon and Public Works have had the Beaverton property in mind for a Transfer Station long before the public had any idea.

I am sure you have all heard us Beaverton Valley whiners talk about how slighted and full of fear we are because of the less than transparent process of the property purchase and use intention. Before the property was purchased a group of Beaverton Neighbors sat on the porch of Nancy and Willie Jo Cavanaugh's (r.i.p.) while Jon Shannon and Kevin Ranker pointed out to the pristine wetlands straddling both the Beaverton Valley and False Bay watersheds saying this is where the new dump is going to be.

Outraged, terrified, full of disbelief, (anyone would feel this way) we all started asking questions. The question four years later still ringing in my ears is when Dave Hall said "wait, wait, everyone" and got everyone's attention and silence, then asked Ranker, and I quote "So basically this is a done deal and the only way to stop it is to sue you" quote Ranker, "Yes".

The property seller David McCauley made out like a bandit as well. Selling the portion of the property over market value to the county for over a million dollars than what he paid for it and claiming emanate domain avoiding capitol gains taxes, meanwhile putting a slough of covenants and restrictions on the property. A couple of the bordering neighbors delayed paying their land taxes in an attempt to get their bearings about them and slow the process down and make it more transparent (a deal like this can't go through if there are unpaid neighboring taxes). Enter McCauley who graciously paid the elderly peoples taxes against their wishes.

The moral of that story is the rich get richer by avoiding taxes and trampling on the little people. The list of cover-ups and spins go on and on.

As far as all this chatter about NIMBY'S it is a very real and human reaction, we are talking about a garbage dump here, about the only worse thing would be a sewer plant. I find it extremely non "Islander like" of all the folks living near the current site who wish for it to be moved rather than fixed up. If only they could see themselves, I guess the greed has made them go blind.

They are there at every SWAC meeting taking notes with twinkles in their eyes when points are made in favor of relocation and frustrated frowns when points for fixing up the current site are made. They are ready to sue (and have already) if any talk or motion of expansion at the current facility takes place. Let us not forget, they chose and were fully aware of their neighbor, the dump (and probably got a really cheap deal on the land because of it).

I find it ridiculous when they say it can't be done at the current site, where there is a will there is a way. Those in opposition say "it's on a slope, it won't work", "there is an old landfill there". One of the greatest cities in the world was built on a landfill and is quite hilly as well....San Francisco.

Another point that somehow manages to be swept under the rug is the fact that the town can still operate a transfer station there if they wish. They have a myriad of options especially if the price is right. They could end up contracting with Roche Harbor, and of course their own trash.

Why would the town go pay high rates at the Bigger, Better, Faster, More transfer station when they could use their own? Isn't it backwards logic to create an expensive-high-tech-transfer station that caters to a wasteful society making it convenient for people to not have to think about their waste with their purchase?

I personally think the more progressive approach is to start at bottom with education. So what if people have to wait in line on a Saturday to dump their garbage maybe the less convenient it is they will take a moment to really realize what they are doing and think about reduction. As far as a recycling center like 'The Re-Store" you can just check that one off the list, do your homework and check out the Friday Harbor Fire Department Thrift House or Consignment Treasures on Roche Harbor road.

The issues of cost and safety are very real (another thing that George Post doesn't want to consider). The amount of traffic that will be diverted to Beaverton Valley road is huge. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement states that it will be prohibitively expensive to construct at the Beaverton site because of the amount of work needed to be done to the road (including paving No. 2 schoolhouse road).We are talking about a mostly rural road with a few low-impact businesses.

Many of the guests at my Inn choose to walk or bike to town as I, myself, do as well on a regular basis. Beaverton Valley is a skinny road with not much of a shoulder. Even Kevin Ranker can attest to that as he was hit by a car on his bicycle less than a mile from the proposed Beaverton site. I can attest, as well, that it is a bona fide fact that planes fly in low right over the proposed Beaverton site as they come in from the south to make a landing. I see it all the time. That is why the FAA and all of the local pilots are in extreme opposition to this site selection.

I feel strongly that if this were to go to an island wide vote, the vote would be to keep the transfer station where it is and fix it up to serve Islanders better and lessen the impact on current neighbors. I also believe that the recommendation from SWAC in no way reflects what San Juan County resident tax-payers want. I encourage the County Council to develop a referendum so that Islanders can have a say on this extremely hot-button issue.

And here is another opinion email being circulated around the Island:

Friends and neighbors,

Could you please encourage all citizens to participate in the on-line Island Guardian dump poll now being conducted. In observing this process from the beginning, I have never heard of anyone not connected with Public Works or who doesn't live near the current dump speak in favor of moving it.

Most citizens are outraged when they find the county has spent over $ 662,000 on trash consultants to date. Those consultants, the SWAC, or the Department of Public Works have not yet revealed to the public that FAA rules "discourages the development" of the Beaverton Valley and Daniel Lane sites as "incompatible with safe airport operation" and may declare them "a hazard to aircraft" if developed as PW currently plans.

In 2003, the San Juan Board of Board of County Commissioners ruled that trash operations on neighboring sites to Beaverton Valley and Daniel Lane "presented significant safety hazards for aircraft operation," "hazards to public safety" and "proximity to the Friday Harbor airport presented unavoidable adverse impacts to air traffic safety."

The Daniel Lane site is next to the departure path of aircraft and Beaverton Valley is directly under the landing pattern. The San Juan County Pilot's Association have consistently warned of the danger of moving the dump, and promise further FAA and AOPA enforcement action.

On the aircraft safety and increased taxpayer liability issues alone, the dump move should be rejected. To date, no risk/benefit or cost/benefit analyses has been made public by Administrator Rose, PW, or SWAC on the merits of moving versus improving the current facility.

Moving the transfer station is greatly discouraged by multiple federal, state, and county codes and regulations dealing with safety, cost, and environmental issues. Keeping it where it has been for more than 50 years is the safest, most cost effective, most legally compliant course of action. Proponents of moving the dump have brushed aside all cost and liability issues. Where will the county get the millions to move the facility? Raise taxes? The increased liability could bankrupt the county in the event of an accident.

The county administration has not released total expenditures on the project to date. Informed estimates range between $3 and $4 million dollars. A portion of that spent on the current dump would have cured its shortcomings both real and perceived.

A new facility built to county plans and federal regulations could total $10 to $15 million. Facing current economic realities and budget deficits on federal, state, and county levels, that expenditure is not only unwise, it is obscene. How many citizens believe such an expense justified?

The citizens owe neighbors of the current facility a clean, safe, well-run operation. Moving the problems into a new neighborhood is unjustified.

Please make your choices heard via the online poll. The opponents of openness, accountability, and transparency don't want your voices to be heard. Please forward this message to all interested citizens.

Mike Macdonald

Of interest, George Post provided an editorial on these very issues back in 2006 on The San Juan Islander. I find it interesting that he himself wrote, and I quote: "...the Solid Waste Management Plan that is intended to guide policy decisions. Mandated by federal and state legislation, recommended by SWAC and signed by the County, the Town of Friday Harbor and the State Department of Ecology, it sets forth the waste management hierarchy of REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, DISPOSE....In a responsible democratic community, public policy ought not be made in a vacuum. SWAC is attempting through public meetings and the media to inform and stimulate discussion on how to best provide our fellow citizens with the level of solid waste facilities and services they desire and are willing to support. Are we as a community committed to the long term environmental concerns that fostered the reduce, reuse, recycle hierarchy?"

UPDATED 1/05/09: "Keep The Dump or Move The Dump??"

How would you vote on the question of building a new transfer station? Upgrade and keep it where it is, or build a new facility on a new site?

Send an email to Editor (, and state your vote in the Subject line by typing in either: “KEEP IT” or “MOVE IT”

You must include your name, and where you live, or the vote will not be counted. We will tally the total votes, post them on the front page, and forward them to the County Council members.

The County Council will make the decision, not the voters, but that does not mean the voters cannot be heard. The only chance voters on San Juan island may have to vote on the island dump issue is to vote on the Island Guardian.

This may be the only time you can vote on this important -and expensive- proposal that will have an impact on San Juan Island for decades to come.

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