Locating hard facts about the proposed Construction and Demolition (C&D) Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) in Mammoth Lakes is a challenging endeavor. The Town has discussed the possibility of building a MRF since about 2000, yet still lacks a cost estimate for the construction of the facility, or for the ensuing rate increase to consumers. The Town also has not yet provided an analysis of alternatives to the facility that might similarly help the Town meet CalRecycle’s 50% diversion requirements.
According to Acting Public Works Director Peter Bernasconi, the Town may not even be out of compliance with CalRecycle requirements. “Their audit will tell us how well we’re doing in three to four weeks,” he said.
Nevertheless, in July of this year the Town proposed purchasing a parcel between the current Mammoth Disposal transfer station and the Volcom Brothers Skate Park for the possible construction of a C&D MRF. The proposal has met with skepticism and, in some cases, outright anger by Trails and other Town residents.
As Mammoth Lakes 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.
The Town has entertained thoughts of building a MRF since at least 2000, according to a March 23, 2006 memorandum between Town staff and the Solid Waste Committee. The memorandum notes that the Town hired consulting firm SCS Engineers to evaluate whether the Town could benefit from a MRF as part of its recycling and waste management program in 2000. SCS’s conclusion:
“Building a material recovery facility in the Town is not practical at this point… Efficient operation of a MRF requires an adequate supply of materials that can be readily separated and marketed… The quantities and types of materials evident in the Town’s waste stream would not support the financial investment necessary to build and operate a MRF.”
The SCS report instead recommended that the Town meet its recycling requirements “by targeting customers with ‘front-end’ recycling programs.” Given this recommendation, the Solid Waste Committee concluded that “the Town is on the right course and that circumstances have not changed to warrant the financial risk of building and operating a MRF.”
According to Mono County Solid Waste Superintendent Tony Dublino, the Solid Waste Committee came to the same conclusion in 2006, in spite of a dramatic rise in waste tonnage from about 8,000 to 17,880 tons per year between 2000-2006. “If the financial risk was not warranted with 17,000 tons of waste, how is it warranted with 7,000 tons of waste?” he wondered in a letter sent to Town representatives in November of 2012.
So what has changed since the Solid Waste Committee’s conclusion in 2006? If anything, Dublino said, waste volume has dropped from the height of 17,880 tons per year in 2006 to about 7,000 tons for the last three years. He also noted that the Town’s through-put (the amount of material that passes through processing) for C&D is currently only up to 11 tons per day during the peak season, with as little as 2 tons per day during winter. For comparison, the small MRF in Big Bear processes a C&D through-put of 50 tons per day.
In other words, Mammoth may not even have the need to justify a C&D MRF.
Dublino also argued that the County could solve the Town’s C&D problem without resorting to a MRF. “The County has gone through records of waste received to Benton Crossing Landfill, [and] has tested pilot efforts at increasing C&D diversion,” Dublino’s letter to the Town states. “If so directed, the County could begin diverting upwards of 50% of C&D waste at the landfill, at little additional cost to the users of the system.”
Dublino proposed renting a jaw crusher or impact crusher capable of processing between 150-300 tons per hour, which an entire year of Mammoth’s inert C&D waste for re-use in approximately 10 hours. “This effort alone would divert more than 50% of Mammoth’s C&D waste stream,” he said. According to his letter, Mammoth had an annual average of about 2,115 tons of large inerts, such as concrete and asphalt, 2009-2011. Mammoth averaged 1,820 tons of mixed C&D per year for that same period.
In addition, Dublino said, “Wood waste and metal can be picked from mixed C&D with a skid steer and by hand, with the potential of diverting up to 4 tons per day during peak season, or approximately 400 tons per year. This could be done with existing equipment and staffing. Although this represents only 20% diversion of C&D waste, together with the diversion of inerts, it would represent over 65% diversion of the entire C&D waste stream.”
Should the Town still consider a C&D MRF, Dublino cautioned that “the dumping, processing, and stockpiling of sorted C&D waste should be appropriately sited. It is an industrial activity. It’s a lot different from tossing a plastic Gatorade bottle into a bin, by hand,” he said.
Meanwhile at the September 18 Town Council meeting, Mammoth Lakes resident Paul Rudder also cautioned the Town to consider how the cost of building and operating a MRF facility might be passed on to the consumer. Mammoth Disposal District Manager Pat Fenton placed the cost of the MRF, including land, at about $13 million. Mammoth Disposal would want a 13% annual increase every year for three years to pay for this.
On top of the 13% increase, Acting Public Works Director Peter Bernasconi added that the Town would also raise the tipping fee.
Mono County’s D&S Waste Removal, Inc., Manager Kevin Brown argued that, per his calculations, the increase in Mammoth Disposal and Town costs as a result of the MRF would mean that the current rate of $74/ton for municipal waste could rise as high as $120-$150/ton. “This isn’t just going to all of a sudden get done and everybody’s going to be happy,” he said. “People need to know that there are other alternatives.”
Rudder’s recommendation: Council should create a commission to oversee the recycling facility proposal, and the potential 20-30 year franchise agreement that the Town must enter into with Mammoth Disposal should it wish to pursue that facility. “A commission could look at it from the perspective of the people who will be dealing with the cost of that on into the future over the next 30 years,” he said.