From the pyrotechnics at Thursday afternoon’s Mono County and Town of Mammoth Lakes Liaison Committee Special Meeting, one might think the Town proposal for a possible Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) on a parcel near the Trails neighborhood had dropped only recently to explode within the Mammoth community. However, as Town Public Works Director Ray Jarvis pointed out at the meeting, discussion of a MRF has been ongoing since 2006, with letters pertaining to a MRF dating back as far as 1992.
But for residents of the Trails, who turned the meeting into the most packed house seen by Town and County staff all year, the proposal to build a Construction and Demolition (C&D) MRF on a parcel between the current Town disposal site in the Industrial Park and the Volcom Brothers Skate Park was met with shock and resistance.
One resident speculated that property values in the Trails would drop, and that the MRF would attract birds and rats, and generate smells associated with a dump. Informed that the Town Council would hold a closed session on July 24 to decide whether or not to buy the parcel with funds already reserved for such a purchase, this audience member asserted, “When you buy the land, it’s a done deal; our voices cannot be heard beyond that point.”
Town staff was quick to correct both perceptions about the facility and the approval process. Said Jarvis, “This facility is not a dump, not a garbage processing facility, it is a recycling facility. It will be a closed, insulated facility. The smell is not going to be an issue. It will actually create better conditions down there than we have now.” Meanwhile Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez stressed that any decisions regarding the MRF, which remains in the very early planning stages, will be subject to a public process. “There hasn’t been a final decision about the MRF facility and what it entails,” she said. “There will [still] be a public and CEQA process.”
Other residents wondered whether the MRF might not be moved to a location at the Mammoth Yosemite Airport, where they believed truck traffic and visual impacts would be lessened. This solution would raise new problems, Pat Fenton of Waste Connections pointed out. “Only 83 residents in the Town of Mammoth Lakes have curbside services,” he said, “so everybody [else] would have to drive 15 miles to do what they have to do.” This distance would not only create a hassle for residents, but also for transport trucks, which would have to drive materials greater distances to reach the facility.
Whatever the eventual location of the MRF, resident Lisa Isaacs argued, “There are a lot of other, less costly ways to keep us in compliance [with the State] and ensure compliance in the future.” Isaacs noted the $4 million price tag of a small C&D MRF recently built in Big Bear for a population of 10,000.
“We need to really look at this in a very wise manner, not just a reactionary manner because we’ve been thinking about it so long,” she said.
Mono County Supervisor Fred Stump became the target of one Trails resident’s ire when he pointed out the fact that one way or another, both the Town and County must figure out a way to deal with their trash problems. With the Benton Crossing landfill set to close in 2023, and with both the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Bureau of Land Management resisting granting the County any additional land for a new landfill, “We have virtually no public support from any public agency to find more land,” he said.
“Why don’t you trade homes with us [then]?” the Trails resident asked.
Stump clarified his position: “I’m not necessarily sold on the MRF project per se,” he said, “or that it has to go where it goes, but for the long-term health of both this community and the County, we need a long-term solution for this problem.”
To this, the resident went so far as to suggest that the MRF could pose a hazard for children playing in the Trails neighborhood, and that any explosion at the MRF could hit the gas tanks in the Trails, decimating the neighborhood.
Lisa Isaacs also pointed out that a human head had been found at one MRF in Northern California.
Isaacs used this as an example of garbage and other unwanted materials making their way into an MRF intended for recycling, to which Fenton replied, “I’ve built and managed, not just walked in and looked at, MRF facilities. We are not going to deal with garbage; that’s disgusting. I wouldn’t put my people through that.”
When Mono County Supervisor Byng Hunt voiced some of the questions he had heard from the community, including whether there is a real need for the MRF, what the other alternatives might be, what the real cost will be, how big the facility will be, and what this will mean for taxpayers, Marysheva-Martinez deferred those questions to a later date. “I don’t know if this forum is the proper place to take those questions,” she said. She posited a time after the July 24 Town Council closed session, when staff would know whether or not Council had approved the purchase of the parcel near the Trails, as a better time.
“I don’t think buying the land down there in closed session suits the needs of the Town and the residents,” concluded one audience member. But, “If it is a great idea, sell it to us.”
Supervisor Hunt said the issue will be brought before the Mono County Board of Supervisors in August; the County and Town will continue their discussion of the MRF at the next Liaison Committee Meeting on Sept. 19.