The Plumas County Board of Supervisors (BOS) voted unanimously to keep the Graeagle Transfer site open on Saturdays and Sundays with buy-back recycling services available until at least mid-June.
Public Works Director Robert Perreault began the discussion by explaining Intermountain Disposal was experiencing some relative savings from having the site operate less often than before and with fewer services.
It should be noted Perreault made that comment before the board decided to upgrade the recycling program at the site from a self-help, non-paid recycling program to the original buy-back service, meaning some of the savings he referred to are no longer being incurred.
The director said he met with the Graeagle citizens group that was fighting to keep the plant open and determined more time was needed for the citizens to seek a means to pull the site’s budget out of the red.
Perreault said the amount of time the group should be given was up for debate. “They were looking at six months additional time and I was looking at one month.”
He added that Intermountain Disposal manager Ricky Ross told him expenses were down in general because it was “the slow time of the year.”
Perreault added that he would be back to give monthly reports on his meetings with the citizens groups until the time the supervisors designated for a decision.
BOS Chairwoman Sherrie Thrall asked if Perreault had an opinion on the Graeagle residents’ suggestion that some of the expensive repairs Ross said the site needed could be postponed or done with less funding.
Perreault told her the repairs were necessary in general but only some of them needed to be done this year.
Quincy Supervisor Lori Simpson asked why the repairs weren’t made over the years instead of piling up to over $100,000.
Perreault said there were more urgent repairs done at other transfer stations over the years.
It should also be noted that Ross has never come close to making the 10 percent yearly profit margin his contract guarantees because of the county’s hesitancy to raise rates.
A forensic management audit ordered by the BOS clearly indicated Ross was running his operation efficiently.
When you put those two realities together it’s hard to comprehend how Ross would have funded these repairs.
The original point of closing the transfer station was to avoid raising all county residents’ rates further to pay for the repairs.
Ross also contended in the past that the rest of the county’s residents, whose transfer stations were solvent, were now subsidizing the Graeagle site, which was in the red because of an insufficient customer base.
Thrall asked incoming Graeagle Supervisor John Kennedy what his thoughts were on this issue, since it clearly wouldn’t be resolved before he joined the board in January.
Kennedy replied that he was concerned about a complete closure of the site because of recycling mandates handed down to the county from the state and federal governments and because he thought closing the station would impact the town’s tourism based economy.
He said his preference would have been for the county to agree to a larger countywide rate increase instead of attempting to close the station, adding that the board could only legally raise the rate once each year without going through an onerous public process.
“The audit determined, regardless of anyone’s opinion, the operation was clean and above board so that probably should have indicated an OK to get the rate increase,” he added.
The supervisor-to-be said at this point he favored giving the community six months to make its case for keeping the site open as he felt a closure would have a negative long-term impact on the area.
“Closure is not an option in our mind,” Graeagle resident Jack Bridge, who has been the spokesperson for the citizens group, told the board.
He argued that the Forest Service reported illegal dumping always increased when transfer stations closed, like the one in Chilcoot.
Bridge said local business people and service districts would end up paying extra on their garbage removal because of illegal dumping in their dumpsters and on their property.
He argued the business people in Graeagle shouldn’t have to pay for everyone else’s garbage.
Next he argued for his group’s request for six months to come up with a plan to keep the transfer site open.
Essentially he argued that the county shouldn’t put a time limit on the formation of a plan until it knows what the plan is.
“Any good business plan or solution that is come up with, to put a time frame on it is probably not a good idea because until you have a good idea as to what the plan is, first of all you don’t want to implement it prematurely until you know that it works. Secondly you don’t want to give up just because you have a time frame.”
Simpson told Bridge she thought a lot of people dumped garbage illegally because they didn’t want to pay a fee, not because there wasn’t a transfer station nearby.
She also argued that condos and hotels had trash pickup so she didn’t understand why Graeagle being a tourism area made the transfer station more important.
Bridge responded that the issue was caused by people who had second homes in Graeagle and were “occasional occupants.”
He said the closing of that station meant these people were “left without that service and really not in a position to take advantage of curbside pickup because first of all it comes maybe on a Wednesday and they’re only there on the weekends.”
In the past Ross argued that he offered a service allowing those residents to leave their trash in a bear box, which would be emptied by his staff on request for a fee only slightly higher than that for weekly trash collection.
The only requirement is that the second-home owners purchase the bear box.
When asked if the committee would come to the conclusion that the citizens of Graeagle would have to pay extra so that the rest of the county wouldn’t have to subsidize the operation, Bridge responded, “We’d like to find a way of doing that without that.”
He acknowledged that his committee suggested early on in this process that the community would consider that option.
“That’s gonna be very dependent on the community’s willingness to do that,” he added. “If we find that the community says ‘hell no, we don’t want to pay a surcharge,’ then that takes it off the table as a viable option.”
“In terms of a long-term solution, I think it’s a viable thing to look at until it’s proven that it won’t work.”
Asked when the committee planned to pose that question to the community, Bridge responded, “First of all I think the community needs to have some certainty that there’s a period of time where it will be open so that they’re willing to continue utilizing that service, which is going to reflect itself in income.”
“It probably will come down the road a little bit after we’ve done some more research into how to make it work.”
At this point, Graeagle Supervisor Ole Olsen asked Ross if he had any comment before the board made a decision.
Ross said he felt like he’d been attending ongoing meetings nonstop for quite some time.
“Yes, we have received savings by reducing the hours and we are not unwilling, we want to work with the community, and we’re trying to figure it out.”
On the flip side he said in the end the numbers will either add up for the community of Graeagle or they won’t.
“As we explained to them, it’s more of an economic issue to us.”
On the topic of the pending as-yet unfunded repairs needed at the site, he told the board, “Our insurance company asked us if we would remain at that site for any limited time, would the county be willing to give us a letter releasing us of any liability if anything happens to anybody while that site is open. It’s a dangerous site.”
He added that he was OK with waiting another month to see what the citizens came up with.
After giving Ross his chance to speak, Olsen moved to keep the site open on Saturday and Sundays until the third supervisors meeting in June.
Olsen said this would give time to see where the economy is at that point and review how much the transfer station was used during that period.
He asked for monthly reports on the meetings between public works and the citizens group and called for the recycling service to be upgraded back to the buy-back level.
Eastern Plumas Supervisor Terry Swofford seconded the motion and the board passed it unanimously.
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