Top Stories of 2016: Summit County recycling program hits the skids (No. 3)
December 29, 2016
The matter of community recycling swiftly — and for most, unexpectedly — became a hot-button issue late this year when the county started contemplating considerable reductions due to dwindling funds.
The situation boiled over in November when the county government began to finalize a budget for 2017, and finally had to take a serious look at revenue shortfalls caused by a kink in its business model to maintain current operations at the county landfill north of Keystone. The Summit County Resource Allocation Park, or SCRAP for short, is less a dump than it is a disposal location of the 21st century, focused on diverting waste from the ground through innovative recycling, composting and wood chipping programs. It also requires increased funds to function outside the scope of a mere garbage collection site, however, and the decision this summer by a local trash hauler to take rubbish elsewhere directly affected the bottom line.
Desiring to consolidate operations and pay lower dues — or tipping fees, as they're called in the industry — to enter the local landfill and drop off materials, Timberline Disposal, LLC, instead started taking trash to a site in Silver Plume in June. These tariffs charged by SCRAP are typically higher than those of the Front Range, but also make up about 30 percent of SCRAP's allotted funding. With no immediate answer, the county made the call that something was going to have to be give if that model could not be shored up, and quickly. The unwelcome choice was recycling.
"Timberline recognizes that the county has a budgetary dilemma, and we're willing to do our share to help the community reach a resolution," Larry Romine, co-founder of Timberline, wrote in an op-ed for the Daily. "For Timberline to make recycling available, of course, we must find a way to stay in business. It's just the simple equation that keeps the American economy vibrant. There is nothing greedy about it."
Still, the state required that all counties approve and submit a budget by no later than Dec. 15, so recycling fell off the books, and the Board of County Commissioners targeted the existing recycling drop-off centers in Breckenridge and Frisco for closure by no later than Jan. 31. With the Silverthorne site, operated by hauler Waste Management, already folding in November with the exception of sorted glass bottles — and concerns with it of a small center in Dillon being overrun as a result — that set off a public firestorm over the prospective elimination of this convenience.
"That's what we had to do to balance the budget," county finance director Marty Ferris said in November, "but it's not ideal, obviously. It's not good."
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The Daily received an outpouring of letters voicing opinions on the matter, and hundreds packed the Summit County Community & Senior Center in Frisco for the monthly "What's Brewing?" meeting on the subject in early December. The county then hosted a tour of the SCRAP so residents could see operations and get a better understanding of the present business model.
"Everyone understands the importance of SCRAP's viability, and how important recycling is to the community," county manager Scott Vargo noted during a morning meeting in November. "In 2018 we will have to find another $700,000-plus in additional cuts within the operation. We cannot do that, so we have to come up with some other alternatives."
The county proposed reinstating a flow-control mandate that's technically been in place since 1980, but not enforced. The directive would require all haulers to keep all Summit County-produced trash and recycling local by delivering it strictly to the SCRAP. That would ensure tipping fees, which are spread out to cover the costs of the recycling program, were retained, and keep the drop-off locales open.
Timberline and the county have been in talks to resolve the matter. Common ground exists, but as of yet, and with the clock ticking on the drop-off sites in Breck and Frisco, no designated agreement has been reached.
"My goal is an ordinance that all the towns can buy in on and all the haulers can buy in on that also levels the playing field for future players," said Thad Noll, assistant county manager. "I think we'll come up with something."
"Timberline pledges always to make recycling services available," wrote Romine. "The complexities of this issue require that we take a big-picture view, and that we acknowledge the 'simple solution' of greater and greater amounts of trash to the landfill is really no solution at all."