Opinion Piece By Samuel Strait – May 2, 2016 –
Recently, Tedd Ward, Director of the Del North Solid Waste Management Authority (DNSWMA), announced as he has nearly every year for the past several years, that he was only sending $30, 625 in fees to the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board in hopes that the board will relent and lower water quality threat level from the long shuttered Del Norte County Landfill. As usual, in that it does not benefit the NCRWQCB which is no longer funded by the State, they will before the year is out refuse to lower the threat level by some mysterious means only known to them. At which point Mr. Ward will quietly pay the additional fee and go about his business of twiddling his thumbs. The reasoning of this proud announcement, of course covered by our poor excuse for a newspaper, is to deceive the great unwashed public into believing that the DNSWMA actually does something worthy of the nearly $1.4 million spent annually.
Perhaps at this point, it would be enlightening, to examine the history of the landfill from its beginnings in the 1950’s as a general collection point for refuse to prevent other less hygienic means of disposal to the present. After it’s use for nearly thirty years there were no reported threats to public health or the environment. In 1989, California with its one size fits all regulations determined that the landfill was out of compliance and immediately began to threaten fines if the landfill was not closed and steps taken to protect the County’s citizens and the environment from POTENTIAL threats to water sources. Naturally, our elected leaders at the time, panicked at the prospect of closing the landfill in the time frame expected by the State’s cease and desist order and shuffled the whole mess onto the shoulders of our current Joint Powers Authority (JPA). This took three years. I guess in government speak that is immediate.
In the midst of this turmoil, what seems to be counter productive in this action by the State then as it is now, was the threat of punitive action, levying of fines and fees as if the County’s leaders were going to ignore the State’s heavy handed actions. Particularly, in light of the fact that up until 1989, the unlined landfill did not present a major hazard to anyone, something that continues to be the case up to the present time. It would seem that all coastal landfills were lumped together and determined to be out of compliance and ordered closed with no corresponding financial assistance or alternative means of effecting change. The State, rather than being helpful, something that should be expected out of our State’s government, sought to increase the financial burden on the County through fines, fees, and the capital costs for the landfill closure, money that could have been better spent to correct the problem. While I am by no means suggesting that the landfill was not a problem with respect to water contamination. it would have been much more reasonable for the State to exercise a bit more common sense when initiating the process.
Rather than pushing back on the State’s abrupt action, our leaders sought to avoid dealing with the issue and burdened the County with the now useless DNSWMA. The unfortunate move by the County’s leadership was immediately compounded by hiring staff who were ill equipped, and are to this day, to negotiate contracts with landfills and contractors alike. In addition the authority was saddled with an Executive Director “with a strong recycling background” without the understanding that the County was ill suited economically to engage in more than the basic recycling program mandated by our ever helpful state government. The thinking at the time was more diversion by recycling would mean lower cost. Yet more clever thinking by our leadership without any clear idea of how an expanded recycling program would affect waste disposal. Since that time, the previous Director and the current Director have engaged in entangling the County’s residents with a series of largely expensive recycling plans and programs with little to show for them other than a more expensive JPA.
While one can say that morally recycling is a good thing, the enthusiasm should be tempered by what it costs to recycle and how much is truly achieved. Clearly the current Director has no real idea of all the costs associated with recycling that are largely ignored by the pro recycling fanatics. It is estimated that the real costs of recycling for rural county’s such as Del Norte could be double that of the $140 per ton now being spent on solid waste transported to White City. In addition, there is considerable debate as to how much of the recycling collected actually ends up being re manufactured. Difficulties with contamination in single stream recycling collection schemes, as we have in this County, often make the costs of collection, sorting, handling, storage and transportation unattractive to manufacturers. Nearly all forms of recyclables are heavily subsidized by the tax payer, including aluminum cans. With low oil prices, tree farms for virgin paper makers, and sand in enormous quantities, recycling centers currently find a limited market for their products. Finally, products made from recycled material are often of less quality than virgin material, and do not last or perform as long. A stark reminder of failure issues in recycled steel came about when large apartment buildings in South East Asia collapsed, killing hundreds. The cause was determined to be failure in structural beams comprised of recycled steel.
While these statements of fact are not meant to deter individuals from recycling, as California in its infinite wisdom mandates a 30% diversion rate in the form of recyclables, it should be clear that there is a cost which many in this county will have great difficulty affording. The mere fact that the recycling lobby nation wide have had to resort to an overly rosy picture of recycling and ignored the actual and documented problems found in the recycling world should give pause to all thinking people. Talk of “a zero waste plan” is a pipe dream. Mandatory pick up of trash and recycling by all residents should by no means be approved and would guarantee higher collection costs. Residents who insist on curbside recycling should either pay for the privilege or sort and transport their own recycling to a collection point. Because recycling is not the proverbial “free lunch” as described, having to pay for it will certainly spotlight just how important it is to some people in the community and relieve the burden from those who just want their solid waste handled as inexpensively as possible. The County’s leadership should disband the current DNSWMA as an agency that has out lived its useful purpose and is ill suited to this small economically challenged county for the foreseeable future. If Del Norte County were to become an economic powerhouse in the future then, and only then could large scale recycling be viable.