When it comes to solid waste in Mono County, the Town of Mammoth is holding the trash bag full of golden tickets; at least that much was apparent at a special Town/County liaison meeting on Dec. 20, 2012.
The meeting was held to discuss the Town’s construction of a Materials Recycling Facility, or MRF, which the Town hoped to begin in the spring of this year.
“The County is concerned,” said outgoing Finance Director Brian Muir. “We want to make sure we’re still working together.”
“We need to know exactly where you guys are headed, both short-term and long-term,” added Mono County Supervisor Byng Hunt. “Timing is of interest to us. We want to see the MRF happen, but we can’t have the Town pull out too early.”
That’s because the Town produces 70 percent of the County’s waste. If the Town builds the MRF and begins to recycle more, that means less waste to Benton Crossing Landfill, which doesn’t work out economically for the County.
As former County Waste Superintendent Matt Carter reported in May of 2012, “A landfill has to receive a certain tonnage to be feasible.” Carter stated then that the tonnage should be about 50,000 annually, but currently Benton Crossing Landfill is receiving around 30,000 tons. Take away the Town’s 70 percent, or even just cut it in half and make it 35 percent, and the County is looking at a serious deficit.
“If the Town stops paying, the County could have to charge up to $800 per ton,” Mammoth Lakes Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht said.
Wilbrecht has been on the fence with the MRF stating earlier last year, “It would be extremely problematic for the County if the Town ran its own system. And it would cause such bad feelings between the two agencies.”
Plus, Wilbrecht pointed out that many town employees, business owners, etc. live in the outlying county, not within the town limits. Whatever shift in costs transferred to the County by the Town breaking away and doing its own thing, would actually affect those who work in town.
“It’s worth it for us to put in the effort,” Wilbrecht said in May. “It’s better to work together as a region.”
On Wednesday, Wilbrecht added that if the County were forced to charge huge fees caused by the Town breaking away, the program would have to be further subsidized by the County’s General Fund. This is turn could mean a reduction in County services.
But with the Town working under a fragile relationship with CalRecycle (which threatened to start heavily fining the Town last year if it did not come into recycling compliance), the Town’s Public Works Director Ray Jarvis stated at the Dec. 20 meeting that in order to continue in good faith with CalRecycle, the Town needs to continue moving forward with the MRF.
“The urgency doesn’t seem to be there with CalRecycle,” Muir said, citing a recent letter from the agency. “I don’t think it has to be done in a year.”
“The urgency isn’t there because of what we’re doing [moving forward],” Jarvis clarified.
“They [CalRecycle] have clarified that they want us to keep moving forward,” Wilbrecht added. “There are a lot of moving parts, but we need to keep moving forward.”
“The Council promised CalRecycle a timeline that they need to stick to,” added Councilwoman Jo Bacon.
“We are moving in the same direction, it’s just timing,” Hunt said. “The County doesn’t want to be left holding the bag.”
“If the pressure if off, we need to look at trigger points,” added outgoing Supervisor Hap Hazard.
Wilbrecht promised the group that the Town would bring a study back to answer the questions being raised and lay out the Town’s plan. He pointed out that certain things could not be shared yet, however, because the Council was discussing them in closed session.
“We can bring a report back, but we don’t have the resources to present it over and over again,” Wilbrecht told the group.
Wilbrecht also pointed out that two agencies really needed to discuss closing the landfill early and getting waste out of the County.
“Stop throwing out the red herring of opening a new landfill,” Wilbrecht said in reference to the idea that Mono County Supervisor Larry Johnston continues to bring up at Board meetings.
“The Board is divided on this issue, which is confusing,” Hazard admitted.
“Just remembered, when you come to our Board you only need to be able to count to three, and then you can throw the other comments out,” Muir added.
Wilbrecht said that he hopes to have the report ready in early January.
Ultimately, the cost to build to MRF will be borne on the backs of the taxpayers. Rates, however, have yet to be discussed.
Solid Waste Taskforce
At the Dec. 20 meeting the group also discussed reorganizing the duties of the Solid Waste Taskforce, since it felt that the body was currently ineffective.
Wilbrecht explained that the taskforce’s responsibilities were currently too technical.
“We need to have the taskforce look at technical alternatives once they have been developed,” Wilbrecht said. “They would be more effective at a policy level.”