Summit County recycling conflict heads toward local trash-flow resolution
Despite some objections, Summit County is moving forward with a proposed flow-control trash ordinance that stands to maintain current recycling and landfill operations for the foreseeable future.
The county government is still trying to sort through a projected 2017 budget shortfall of $1 million after solid waste hauler Timberline Disposal, LLC, made the decision this past June to take a portion of its loads from Summit down to the Front Range. Conversations have been ongoing between county staff and the area’s haulers and towns to come to an agreement on how to resolve the financial predicament that directly affects the popular free recycling program overseen by the county. A portion of the entry fees to unload waste at the Summit County Resource Allocation Park, or SCRAP, north of Keystone help offset the costs of regional recycling.
By October, the county calculated final numbers for the next fiscal budget when discussions began about potentially shuttering both the Breckenridge and Frisco community recycling drop-off sites due to trash deficits. The suggestion was not well received by residents of the county who have come to rely on the service to offload items such as newspapers, aluminum cans and glass bottles. Since that time, shoring up the business model that keeps the SCRAP running at present levels — including its recycling component — has been the primary aim.
A plan was put into place to avoid closing those two drop-off locations before Jan. 31, while details were closely examined and compromises talked over between the county and Timberline. Those negotiations have not been as fruitful as hoped, however, and the flow-control directive — a measure that would require haulers take local waste only to the SCRAP — at this stage appears a foregone conclusion.
“We simply don’t see eye-to-eye on the ordinance at this point,” county manager Scott Vargo said of the relationship with Timberline. “As long as that process to get the ordinance in place continues to move forward, we’ll continue to have recycling drop-offs centers. That’s our approach right now.”
Although this trash regulation has technically existed in the county since 1980, by and large it was not enforced. The new ordinance would include several updates, as well as buy-in from the area towns, to ensure revenues are retained at the SCRAP. In turn, while holding meetings with the hauler group, the county has sustained its campaign for the new trash regulation.
Staff will bring the ordinance in front of the Board of County Commissioners for initial review this Tuesday, and the Breckenridge town council also plans to hear a similar measure on first reading that afternoon. Dillon and Frisco have considered the idea the last couple months as well, and plan to hold first readings of the proposed regional trash mandate during Jan. 17 and Jan. 24 council meetings, respectively.
“My general sense in Frisco is that we support it,” said Frisco Councilwoman Jessica Burley. “We’re 100 percent behind recycling for our community.”
The town of Silverthorne, on the other hand, does not intend to employ a flow-control bylaw. The concept was debated at forums toward the end of 2016, but for now, the council does not wish to pursue it.
“We’ve discussed the topic at several of our work sessions,” said Ryan Hyland, Silverthorne town manager, “and the town council has a number of concerns, including how this could impact free-market competition.”
That same thought is one shared by Timberline. Having now operated in the county for 13 years, the company’s co-owner explained they’ve rarely increased prices in that time in order to stay competitive with other hauling companies. The mix of a new trash regulation, however, he said, and the county preserving no-cost recycling, will ultimately cost customers more.
“A lot of this is because of the free recycling,” said Larry Romine, also the COO of Timberline Disposal. “Recycling is not free. That is an expense they need to look at really hard to try and offset that cost. And I just hope an ordinance doesn’t limit competition. That won’t be good for the county — at least the residents of the county.”
During meetings with county staff, Timberline has consistently stated the combination of limited operating hours, including holiday closures, at the SCRAP and its elevated landfill entry fee — one of the most expensive in the state — forced the company to construct a transfer station in Silver Plume where trucks get emptied for the next day’s work, and their contents packed and shipped down to Denver. Doing so has helped prevent price increases for consumers because daily operations can continue at a regular pace.
“This is not an easy place to haul trash, especially in the wintertime,” said Romine. “Summit County is a seven-day-a-week resort, and we need some place to go with trash and trucks. The SCRAP was closed Christmas Eve, and we had four trucks and no place to go. This past weekend we had three loads and three trucks and no place to go.”
Following a meeting with Timberline and the area’s other four major haulers on Friday, Jan. 6, the county said it will work on more ideas to address where solid waste will go during SCRAP closures. Should the flow-control ordinance go into effect, Timberline also requests the county consider reducing those entry fees to the SCRAP so customers aren’t left feeling the burden of heightened hauling service charges.
“I hope they look at it and do the right thing,” said Romine. “We’ve done our side of things to keep prices down by operating our business in the most efficient ways we can, and one of those is the transfer facility. So if they write an ordinance so strong to eliminate competition in the market, then that’s not going to be good for business owners and the residents of Summit County.”
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