A perfect storm of rising landfill costs, user abuse and unfair subsidizing for one portion of the county may take the North Fork Transfer Station’s recycling program in a different direction according to Delta County Commissioner Don Suppes.
In response to criticism that county officials have not properly informed North Fork residents on why the changes are warranted, Suppes said, “It was time to revisit the recycling portion of the transfer station. And as we looked at it we realized two things. One we’re competing with the private sector. There are plenty of people up there doing curb side pick-up, there’s the recycling center in Austin. And second, the taxpayers are providing a subsidized entitlement basically for a small portion of the community.”
The District 2 commissioner said while one quarter of the county’s population is basically getting free recycling it isn’t fair to the remaining three quarters who have to pay for the service.
“We’re going to have some angry folks no matter what because there are folks who use the recycling for basically free and they’re going to be upset if anything happens to it and we understand that. We didn’t just close it one day without telling anybody. That’s why we’re trying to get the information out there that this is what we are looking at,” Suppes said.
According to the county’s public information officer, Darnell Place-Wise, the county spent $37,695 in 2018 on all recyclables. Totals for 2019 were at $27,205 in November. The county recently approved $26,000 in contract recycling to Double J Recycling Center in Austin for 2020.
Until recently, the long time arrangement with Double J seemed to be working, but after a visit to the transfer station and a look at operating costs, commissioners decided a change was needed.
Opponents to closing the station point to $53,000 dollars in reserves at the transfer station and another $2 million at the landfill claiming the county has enough money to continue the recycling effort.
Suppes pushed back, “Our landfill revenues are totally separate. The landfill is an enterprise fund meaning it operates like a business, it does not operate like a governmental fund that’s based on tax dollars. We have our post closure costs gathered every year as we move along so that when one cell of the landfill closes we have money in the bank to properly reclaimate the area, that’s required we have no choice on that.”
“We also try to make sure we have money set aside that we can build a new cell. Our new cell is going to be incredibly expense because the state of Colorado is not going to allow for clay liners anymore, so we’re going to be looking at an CDPHE liner that’s going to be very expensive in our new cell so, we’ve got no choice but to build that reserver for that landfill fund if we’re going to keep the landfill open,” he continued.
Suppes said the county also looked at how they were competing with the private sector. With at least two companies in North Fork providing similar services, it may be time for the county to“back down,” he said.
“As long as we’re subsidizing this it’s not going to help them expand their services and potential revenues” Suppes said, “We aren’t competing on the revenue side, we’re losing money.”
Increasing user abuse at the site was also cited as reason for change. Suppes said the station’s recycling is on the honor system causing “dirty recycling” to end up in the county landfill anyway.
“We have people showing up saying their recycling and end up throwing trash. I think there is supervision out there but it’s very minimal, the gentleman watches what goes into the dumpsters that get hauled to the landfill if someone goes to recycle, he pretty much says, “go do your business”.
Despite being labeled “anti-recycling,” Suppes said commissioners are in favor of citizens recycling their trach as a way to reduce debris in the landfill.
“We really don’t want people bringing everything to the landfill. If they can recycle that’s even better. It’s better for our landfill, it’s better for the life expectancy of the landfill and saves us money. So, we want people to recycle and we want to make it easy.”
Moving forward, commissioners are working on a plan to keep the transfer station open by turning the entire operation over to a private company.
“Right now we’re just exploring how to start that conversation and figure out what is going to be the best. We’re hoping we can find a private sector company that will come in and basically take it over, make sure the recycling is done correctly, make sure its separated correctly, do the necessary things on the transfer station, hauling the trash, prepping the trash to get it to the dump. We think there’s opportunity to do it right, but it's going to have to be somebody in the business to make it happen.”
Suppes said the county isn’t looking to make revenue but would consider leasing the site for as little as one dollar a year. The county in return would award the lease based on certain criteria.
“We would be looking at the services provided. Can they provide all the services currently being provided, can they offer it at an affordable rate. Also, business hours, business plans etc,” he said.
In the meantime, the transfer station will remain open while commissioners look for an answer that will both save the county money and satisfy the recycling needs of North Fork residents.