Friday, Mar 13 2009 - The solid waste division of the San Juan County Public Works Department is studying options for continuing operations at the San Juan Island Transfer Station after a state Ecology Department inspector warned that the site might have to meet additional, stringent industrial water quality protection standards within a matter of weeks.
An earlier inspection of transfer station operations by the DOE Solid Waste program found several issues that generally could be addressed operationally, but this week a DOE Water Quality program inspector suggested that the transfer station’s operation and infrastructure may constitute a “significant risk to pollute the waters of the state” and thus could be required to comply with the same clean water regulations set for industries.
Utilities Manager Ed Hale emphasizes that the final requirements are not yet known because the final DOE water quality inspection findings have not been released, but County Environmental Health Manager Mark Tompkins said he came away from a meeting with the inspector feeling that the new requirements are not just a possibility, but a “distinct possibility.”
“The bottom line is that if the industrial requirements are imposed, we would have to insure that no ‘process’ water [water that touches garbage or recycling] could enter stormwater runoff,” said Tompkins.
“The Solid Waste program of the DOE understands that changing the transfer station’s operation to meet standards will take time and it would be willing to make allowances for that, but water quality enforcement is something else,” he said.
Tompkins and Utility Managers say that if the water quality regulations are imposed, instead of having months to come into compliance, the County would likely have no more than two to six weeks.
“This would not just be a matter of putting a roof up over the tipping floor,” said Public Works Solid Waste Manager Steve Alexander, “We would have to resurface the tipping floor, put a roof over the appliance recycling area and the (roadside) area where filled trailers are stored, build berms and drainage systems to capture liquid running off from the trailer pads and transport it for treatment. That would be expensive and could not be completed in a matter of a few weeks.”
One proposed short- term solution would be to convert the existing transfer station to a drop box facility, similar to the facility on Lopez, where individuals would place their garbage and recycling directly into water-tight containers. Commercial haulers, “packer” trucks from the Town of Friday Harbor and trucks hauling construction waste would have to ferry their cargos to the Orcas transfer station. One option being discussed is mandatory curbside pick-up, which many San Juan Island residents have fiercely opposed.
The inspections have come just a few days before the expiration of the Health Department’s variance that allows the transfer station to continue operation even though it is not in compliance with state requirements.
Tompkins says that he submitted a proposed 60-day extension of the variance to DOE on Thursday. The extension would be contingent on the transfer station coming into compliance with requirements imposed by the DOE solid waste and water quality programs. He said that further extensions would be contingent on physical and operational improvements being made to the site.
The transfer station site is leased from the Town of Friday Harbor. The imposition of industrial water quality regulations on the site would affect the town as well as the County as some of the compliance problems are on Friday Harbor property outside of the area leased by the County. A shared drainage system serves the transfer station and Town property which includes a closed landfill and decommissioned incinerator.
The DOE inspections were conducted at the invitation of the County Public Works Department. “Public Works has been moving toward building a new transfer station for more than 9 years,” said Public Works Director Jon Shannon. “But we haven’t made nearly the progress we expected to make in that time.”
Shannon said that after repeated delays in replacing the facility, Public Works felt it was time to perform a complete health, environmental and safety audit of the existing station, including comprehensive inspections by the appropriate state agencies. The next scheduled inspection will be performed next week by the State Department of Labor and Industries. It will look at worker and customer safety and accident prevention issues.
The County Council will discuss both compliance issues at the existing transfer station site and the project to replace the facility at a joint session with the Town Council on March 24.
The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the site selected for the new transfer site at a public hearing during the March 31 County Council session.