Town of Mammoth still out of compliance with CalRecycle
At the Oct. 16 Town Council meeting, Acting Public Works Director Peter Bernasconi presented Town Council with a sobering update on the state of Mammoth Lakes’ recycling diversion compliance. CalRecycle, the agency designated by the State to enforce solid waste diversion requirements, recently audited the Town. According to Bernasconi, Town staff expects a letter from CalRecycle by the end of October, and “It’ll be some sort of notice to comply,” he said.
This is because while Assembly Bill 341 currently requires cities, counties and other agencies to divert 50% of their solid waste from landfills, Mammoth only diverts about 26%. Last year the Town diverted 27%, Bernasconi reported. What’s more, the diversion requirement is set to increase from 50% to 75% by 2020.
“The Town does generate about 80% of solid waste in the County, so the State is looking to increase our diversion rate,” Bernasconi said. The key to reaching diversion requirements is recycling; however, the Town faces a number of unique recycling challenges due to its large transient and second-homeowner population. Another challenge comes from Construction and Demolition (C&D) waste, Bernasconi added. Staff’s report noted that while this year’s diversion rate for C&D waste had gone up, “to some extent this number is misleading because the C&D tonnage has dropped off significantly.”
One of the proposed solutions to the Town’s C&D issue, a C&D Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) located between the current Mammoth Disposal transfer station and the Volcom Brothers Skatepark, has met with considerable controversy. The Town has discussed the possibility of building a MRF since the 1990s, and promised the execution of such a facility in a March 2012 Mandatory Commercial Recycle (MCR) Plan submitted to CalRecycle to implement AB 341.
According to the 2012 MCR Plan, “The MRF is a collaboration between the Town and Mammoth Disposal, and the design plan is 60% completed. It includes both a C&D sort line and a commercial single-stream sort line … [and] is anticipated to run 4 to 5 loads per day.” The MCR plan also projected breaking ground on the MRF by July 1, 2012. It goes on, “Estimated to be completed in 1.5 years, the MRF will allow the Town to divert drywall and asphalt shingles in addition to currently diverted material because there will be a dry place to sort and store them.”
The projected dates for groundbreaking and completion were missed, and discussions about the MRF were muddled until July when Trails residents angrily protested what they considered to be a health and safety hazard near their neighborhood. Other Mammoth Lakes and Mono County residents have argued that the Town has no need for a C&D MRF, which Mammoth Disposal District Manager Pat Fenton projects will cost about $5 million.
Solid Waste Taskforce member Lisa Isaacs and Mono County Solid Waste Superintendent Tony Dublino argued that there are less costly and more efficient solutions to the Town’s C&D diversion problem. Isaacs suggested fully enforcing the new California Green Building Code (CalGreen), which requires more containers for the sorting of different construction debris. According to the CalRecycle website, the CalGreen code applies to newly constructed buildings, including low-rise residential and most non-residential occupancies. As of July 1, 2012, the waste diversion and planning requirements also apply to non-residential additions of 2,000 square feet or more, and to non-residential alteration with a permit valuation or estimated construction cost of $500,000 or more.
But according to the MCR plan, former Mammoth Lakes Recycling Coordinator Johnny Goetz “is out pitching the CalGreen code to construction projects daily, even though there are almost none that fall under CalGreen requirements.” However, Isaacs maintained that should the Town properly enforce CalGreen, “We wouldn’t even need to have this [MRF] conversation. The MRF is like a get around the law,” she said.
Meanwhile, Tony Dublino pointed to the success of a pilot C&D program at the County’s Benton Crossing Landfill, which processed concrete, asphalt and other debris for 26 operating hours and yielded 550 tons of crushed aggregate material. According to Dublino’s Oct. 10 letter to the Town Council, the total cost of the project was about $10,000, or $18/ton. Aggregate material represents about half the C&D waste generated by Mammoth, Dublino’s letter stated. “The processing of the aggregate material represents over a 50% diversion of the entire C&D waste stream,” his letter concluded.
Not only does Dublino believe the County could continue to budget for such C&D processing, but he also believes that this processing could continue after the official closure of the County landfill. “There’s a reasonable probability that the [lessor] Los Angeles Department of Water and Power will continue to allow the County to conduct these activities even after the landfill itself has been closed” he said.
One of the principal concerns of Mammoth residents regarding the proposed MRF is what that facility will cost them. Given Mammoth Disposal’s financial commitment to the $5 million facility, Pat Fenton said Mammoth Disposal would raise consumer rates by 13% each year for the next three years, or almost 40% in three years, to cover the cost. “We won’t increase the rates for new trucks, or our maintenance program,” Fenton said. “All operating costs are built into the 25-year deal, and any time we raise it after will be for inflation. It may seem painful, but at least there will be some predictability for the next 25 years,” he added.
What would this rate hike actually mean for consumers? According to Fenton, the average monthly residential disposal rate at the transfer station is about $18.80. After three 13% increases, that average monthly rate would be $27.12 per month, for an overall average increase to consumers of $99.84 per year. Fenton did not provide comparable rates for commercial businesses by deadline.
Although Fenton maintained that he has pushed to build the MRF only to benefit the Town, this roughly $100 increase per resident, while initially helping to offset the cost of constructing the facility, would be nothing but a boon to Mammoth Disposal, and parent company Waste Connections. Likewise, the Town would get its own cut of the profit. According to Peter Bernasconi, the Town collected about $210,000 in a 5% franchise fee from Mammoth Disposal last year. Should each resident pay about $100 more per year for their trash services, not to mention the increase in revenue from commercial business owners, franchise fee collection could also rise.
But while Mammoth Disposal and the Town might reap the benefits of such a project, not only residents and commercial businesses, but also Mono County might suffer the negative impacts of a C&D MRF. County Solid Waste Superintendent Tony Dublino outlined the County’s concerns before Town Council on Wednesday night. “Our primary concern is actually the long haul transfer station component of this project, and the possibility that the Town would begin exporting its waste prior to the closure of the Benton Crossing Landfill [in 2023],” he said. Dublino explained that the County sets aside funds each year for the closure of the landfill. “Should the Town export its waste stream away from the landfill prior to reaching that closure date, it would create a shortfall in closure funding,” he said. “This of course presents a problem.”
To date, the proposed C&D MRF continues to inspire emotional reactions from both sides. “All these discussions I’ve had, it’s been like a bad dream,” said Pat Fenton, addressing the experience of working with the Town to design the MRF, only to have all the major Town players involved with the project leave Town employment. “I know as much now as I did two years ago.”
Town Council will continue to consider whether a MRF presents a possible solution to its diversion problem, as Town staff waits for the CalRecycle review and audit.