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Garbage woes persist

March 19, 2013

The Benton Crossing landfill. Escaped plastic bags from the landfill cling to the fence that separates the landfill from the mountain landscape as a worker covers more trash with soil. The landfill is scheduled for closure in 2023, but it could take that long to find another landfill—or another solution—to the county’s trash problem. Photo/ Wendilyn Grasseschi

 

Town, county can’t agree how to solve long-term problem

Not long ago, Mono County taxpayers were sending a decent chunk of their hard-earned cash to a garbage disposal enterprise fund that was draining the county coffers to the tune of thousands of dollars a week, every week, when the recession hit the region.

The bleeding has been largely stopped due to an increase in fees paid at the landfill and a slight decrease in service days and garbage disposal services across the county.

That didn’t exactly fix the garbage problem altogether.

Rising human populations, decreased land available for landfills, and the increased cost of building a landfill and operating it are at the heart of the problem. Mono County’s biggest landfill, the Benton Crossing Landfill, is scheduled to close in 2023 and it can take over 10 years just to get a permit for a new landfill in California.

Although the cost of running the county-wide garbage disposal program costs $5,000 a year more than the revenues coming in (compared to the $8,000 a month it cost before), operation costs could change and plunge the county back into a large garbage-caused deficit all over again.

“All it will take is equipment failure, an increase in gas prices or another decrease in the amount of garbage dumped and the balance is off again,” said Tony Dublino, the county’s solid waste supervisor.

California law now dictates that counties divert most of its garbage into recycling. Traditionally, the more garbage a solid waste fund brings in, the more money it has to work with since dumping garbage costs customers per ton.

Mono County Supervisor Larry Johnston suggested a regional solution in which the Town of Mammoth Lakes (which generates 80 percent of the garbage in the county), the county, and perhaps even Inyo County all participate.

“I don’t see a reason to rush it too fast,” he said. “The Town is in compliance, we are in compliance now. It gives us some time to figure out how to deal with this in the long term.”

Although a regional solution might work, there is some tension between the county and town over this garbage issue, specifically over how to split the cost and still follow the state’s requirements to divert some of the waste to recycling. How would that be divided? Who does what? Who pays for what?

Tension over how existing parcel fees are portioned out, once collected, and other issues have also plagued the two entities.

According to the Town of Mammoth Lakes Public Works Director Ray Jarvis, the best solution is building a “materials recycling facility” or MRF, which would allow Mammoth to meet state requirements for diverting waste to recycling.

A site is already picked out (south of the current Mammoth recycling center), and there is already a developer waiting in the wings (Waste Connections, pending a franchise agreement).

“We would like to divert about 50 percent of our waste, then more down the road,” Jarvis said. “Right now, we are at about 25 percent.”

The county is in no hurry to build a MRF right away, Johnston said.

“I’m not convinced this is the best solution, ” he said. “Until we get the numbers from the town, it’s impossible to know if building such a facility, or building it where they have proposed, will end up costing residents more than they are already paying since the cost of the facility will be added to the cost of doing business. There might be a better long term solution, like a regional solution.”

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