Transfer site to accept toxic materials

December 28, 2005

Hood River, Wasco, and Sherman County residents can stop worrying about that shelf in the garage with all the old cans of solvents, paints and pesticides. When June rolls around, there will be safe places to dispose of them, for free.

Wednesday, the Wasco County Court gave its approval to the construction of hazardous household waste collection facilities at the current transfer stations in The Dalles and Hood River. (Sherman County residents will use The Dalles facility.)

Cherokee General, a Fairview-based contractor, will construct the facilities at a cost of $406,000, and hope to be finished by the end of May.

Wasco County commissioners were quick to note that no taxpayer dollars are being spent on this project, which is funded by a surcharge on fees at landfills in Wasco and Hood River counties. Those charges, which have been in place for several years, are passed on to consumers who don’t use the landfill directly in the form of slightly higher charges for garbage pickup services.

When the facilities are complete, they will accept:

Household hazardous wastes, such as solvents, oil-based paints, florescent tubes, mercury and pesticides.

Agricultural wastes such as pesticides and herbicides.

Conditionally exempt small quantity generated waste. This is a special federally designated category, limited to facilities that generate less than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of hazardous waste (ignitable, corrosive, reactive or toxic) per month.

Glenn Pierce, whose official title is environmental health specialist supervisor with the Wasco-Sherman Public Health Department, but who prefers to think of himself as a sanitarian, has been instrumental in the project from the beginning.

“We’ll be one of the few facilities in the country taking all three kinds of waste,” he said. “And by taking agricultural pesticides, we can really help farmers.”

The facilities will not be open continuously, but will host a planned 16 events a year at which local residents can bring in qualifying hazardous wastes.

“Some, perhaps as many as half the events, will be off-site,” said Pierce, “meaning they might be held in Maupin, Cascade Locks or Moro. Though there is no site in Sherman County, their citizens will be allowed to use The Dalles site.”

There is also a list of materials that will NOT be accepted by the facilities. They include: radioactive materials, explosives, and medical wastes.

Wasco County will not operate the facilities directly. The county does serve as the lead agency in a consortium involving intergovernmental agreements with Hood River and Sherman counties, and each of “rate-setting bodies” (cities) in those three counties. A steering committee involving members from all the governments has taken the lead in decision-making.

The ongoing charges will also fund collection and disposal of the hazardous wastes; commissioners approved separate five-year operating contracts for the two functions with Burlington Environmental, a subsidiary of Phillips Services Corporation (PSC).

Pierce said the steering committee was pleased to work with PSC, a nationwide company with more than 12,000 employees and long experience in the business.

“They recycle to the maximum, which keeps costs down, and they offer handling of ‘e-waste,’ electronic waste, including old computers, which most other bidders do not.”

The process began in 2002 with a series of three $10,000 study grants from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and a $65,000 startup grant.

Pierce is quick to give credit to the counties and cities for supporting the project.

“Maupin, Mosier, Moro, Cascade Locks; all the communities got behind it,” he said. “People pulled together to make this happen.” He added that it was initial increase in garbage service costs. “Cascade Locks had just gone through a 50 percent rate hike when we came asking for more,” Pierce noted, “but when we explained the situation, they did a 180 degree turn.”

Things weren’t always as rosy; the plan suffered a pair of setbacks earlier this year when the county went out for construction bids. A first round in August brought only one bidder, who was later disqualified. A second round also resulted in a single bid, for $619,800 — a shock to steering committee members who had a planned construction budget of $375,000.

Ultimately, the committee adjusted some requirements and the company reduced its price to the $406,000 figure.

“We hope to be done with construction by the end of May,” said Pierce. “We’ll have our first collection event shortly after that.”

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