By Meg Olson
With the county health department assuming oversight of solid waste operations last year, staff members have decided to launch a comprehensive review of garbage and recycling services in Point Roberts.
“We believe health decisions should be community based,” said Jeff Hegedus, environmental health supervisor, who attended the May 10 meeting of the Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee with other health department staff members. They were there to ask the committee about how to get community input on what they see as the challenges for solid waste operations, provided by Cando Recycling and Disposal.
“We have an understanding of the infrastructure of that task in addition to the complexities of a community like Point Roberts,” Hegedus said. “It’s really difficult to come up with a solution to give people the services they want at a reasonable cost and to ensure we don’t have a turnover of our service provider every six years.”
Curbside services were halted in June 2009 after former Point Recycling and Refuse owner Arthur Wilkowski surrendered the company’s solid waste certificate claiming county rules made the business unfeasible.
In granting an operating authority to Freedom 2000, which operates Cando Recycling and Disposal, in January, 2010, The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) was sharply critical of the county’s solid waste policies.
“The geography and small resident population of Point Roberts, combined with the solid waste collection ordinances established by Whatcom County, make for a problematic service territory for a solid waste collection company,” wrote commissioners Jeff Golz and Pat Oshie. They pointed to a small customer base and numerous paths for exemptions to the universal service the county mandates. “The failure of the county to recognize and address the detrimental impacts of its countywide ordinances and policies on solid waste collection in the small community has created a very difficult situation.”
Cando owner David Gellatly said when he took over the garbage service in 2010 he told the county public works department, which had oversight of solid waste at the time, to give him five years to work with the system as it exists. “Then it was time to start talking,” he said, and the transfer of solid waste responsibilities to the health department offered a good opportunity for renewed dialogue.
With fewer people signed up for curbside services and his costs increasing, Gellatly said eventually he would need to go to the WUTC to review rates if the system was to remain financially feasible. “If I don’t see more volume I may have to raise rates,” he said, which he hasn’t done since taking over the service.
“It’s an economy of scale thing,” he said, echoing Wilkowski’s argument and the WUTC’s criticism. “It would be quite beneficial if everybody signed up for curbside pickup. It would be better to have 800 customers instead of 350, rather than having to go to the WUTC to get an increase that will be paid by the people who are supporting the system now.”
Gellatly added the cost to the consumer to self-haul a can of garbage was not appreciably less than the cost for garbage pickup. “The bottom line is with the honest people, I’m getting the garbage one way or another,” he said.
Dumping has been on the rise, he said, pointing to a large cleanup at the end of Diane Circle the county footed the bill for last year and the growing volume of household garbage that county park staff are seeing in their dumpsters. “My personal feeling is, if we had mandatory collection, we’d see less of that,” he said. “It would be cheaper for everyone and we’d have a cleaner community. Other programs like pre-paid tags for occasional pickup also make the system more flexible for part-time residents.”
“At some point, we will be doing an analysis of waste management in Point Roberts,” Hegedus said. “To do that, we need data and information from the community.” PRCAC members agreed town hall meetings were not the most effective way to reach a good cross-section of community members, including permanent residents, seasonal residents and part-timers. They suggested a well-structured online survey.
“We’ll design the outreach program and bring that back to you,” Hegedus said.
Gellatly said he felt positive about the process being able to come up with workable solutions without the finger-pointing that marked the collapse of the collection system six-years ago. “I don’t want to recreate that bitter taste,” he said. “There’s a realization something’s wrong. Let’s have a positive dialogue and find solutions that work for everyone.”