Concerned citizens in the North Fork area voiced their concerns over the county’s proposed changes at the North Fork Transfer Station at a meeting held by the Western Slope Conservation Center in Paonia on Jan.21.
“The main goal for us was to capture some feedback from concerned community members. Recycling is an important issue to a lot of people across Delta County so we wanted to hear from as many people as we could and understand the impacts that changes to transfer station in Hotchkiss will have on our community,” said Patrick Dooling, executive director Western Slope Conservation Center.
Going forward, Dooling anticipates that the conservation center can help “elevate some of those concerns to our county leadership” and help facilitate a viable solution for all parties involved.
He said participants at the meeting “wanted to highlight the fact that the 'pilot program' initiated in 2012 has been a huge success.” According to Dooling, one local business owner has been able to reduce his trash volume by 75% through recycling at the transfer station, saving considerable costs.
Participants said they hoped the popularity of the transfer station would lead to similar opportunities at the Adobe Buttes Landfill or other locations in the county, as well as opportunities to recycle other materials such as hazardous waste.
Dooling said he spoke briefly with county officials prior to the meeting in an effort to get as many specifics as possible. During those calls he expressed citizen concerns over the possible closure of the site. He said the county’s concerns were well documented in Jan.2 article in the Delta County Independent.
On the issue of subsidizing, participants noted that while the transfer station is located in Hotchkiss, it is open to residents and businesses across Delta County, not just the North Fork. In addition, meeting attendees felt the county should focus on economic, not geographic, equity.
Attendees said, if the transfer station closes, North Fork residents as well as the rest of Delta County would be forced to drive and pay for drop off at the recycling center in Austin or pay for curbside pickup.
They contend that regular curbside recycling pickup may be cost-prohibitive or out of the question for remote residents. The closure of the station they say could force recyclable materials to the landfill, an outcome the Delta County Commissioners state they hope to avoid.
On the issue of landfill abuse, Dooling said, “ I think there’s a lot that can be done to mediate that issue. I think we could explore a lot of different opportunities to have a better education component on what can be recycled, what can’t and get more details out to the public and try and address those issues.”
One attendee raised the prospect of hosting a “community clean-up day” at the where volunteers could show their support and appreciation for the recycling program by making physical improvements, collecting refuse and other work.
In their words, “Closing the recycling center due to trash before taking appropriate proactive measures would be a drastic overreaction disproportionate to the problem.”
When it came to the rising cost of landfills, Dooling said, “One of the benefits of recycling is that we are diverting waste from the landfills and so, all of the materials that are going to the recycling center at the transfer station are going to be recycled and repurposed and they won’t just collect in a landfill taking up valuable space in the Adobe Buttes Landfill.”
He cited the Western Colorado Waste Diversion Study (2018), sponsored by Mesa County, that looked at different waste diversion metrics across the Western Slope including Mesa, Delta, Montrose and Gunnison counties. The study showed that 86.7% of the materials at the Adobe Buttes Landfill could have been diverted using typical recycling programs, most of which are currently available in Delta County. Of that 86.7%, 32% was recyclable material, while 31% was compostable.
“They did actual audits of the landfills. The study concluded with recommendations that Western Slope counties should be looking at opportunities to divert more waste from the landfills, so our landfills don’t fill up as quickly. ...saving taxpayer money,” Dooling said.
While recycling may in fact save taxpayers when it comes to building more expensive landfill cells by diverting waste, the market for recyclable materials has hit a downturn following new restrictions set by China, a major importer of recyclable materials.
Dooling said participants recognized the challenges of the global recycling markets which can apply stressors on local recyclers. They discussed the need for greater efforts to reduce items such single use plastics as well as the need to create new opportunities to reuse or put recyclable materials to beneficial use locally. In addition, new opportunities like the compost facility set to open in Olathe this spring should be supported.
“You could also have another opportunity I think, it could in theory, open up other economic doors to repurposing that recyclable material or coming up with other recycling ventures like composting or something similar to that where we’re not putting the waste exactly into the recycling center but we’re actually looking at new opportunities to use recyclable materials for another beneficial use,” Dooling stated.
Delta County Commissioner Don Suppes, in an earlier interview with the DCI, suggested that the county might look for a private company to take over the transfer station for a nominal fee. While this topic did not appear in Dooling’s re-cap of the meeting he did address it in a phone interview prior to the meeting.
“I haven’t discussed any particulars of that yet with anyone at the county or within the community...it’s certainly an idea that’s out there that we’ll be looking into the merits, the advantages and the disadvantages of it. But, right now I don’t know of any specific companies that are looking to take that over. I don’t know the capacity of any local companies to do those sorts of things.”
Dooling said at this point the private/public partnership seems to be more hypothetical in nature and he’s not convinced that it’s the best solution going forward.
“Overall, the community meeting displayed a high level of public interest in the future of recycling in Delta County, however, attendees were unsure how the county will make the final determination and they hope to have the opportunity to formally comment on the issue with the Commissioners. There are many unique sides to this issue and we hope the county will gather as many perspectives as possible before making their final decision,” said Dooling.
As for WSCC, Dooling assured citizens that the conservation center is “committed to ensuring access to recycling opportunities across Delta County and will continue to look at some of the ways the county can increase and not decrease those opportunities.”
“I think this is going to be a constantly evolving issue as the county does more of their studies to understand potential options, so the conservation center is going to engage in this all throughout (the process) and try and work on a solution for everyone in Delta County,” he said.
*Patrick Dooling, Western Slope Conservation Center, contributed to this article.