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Garbage rate increase may keep compostable materials in county

By: Stephanie Derammelaere
August 17, 2018

The Sonoma County Waste Management Agency (SCWMA) will be changing how compostable materials are managed, at least for the next 20 years. Given that the changes will most likely result in an increase in garbage rates for residents, the agency is seeking public input on proposals it received and its recommendations, from companies that can build an in-county compost facility. 

Since 2015, when the compost facility next to the landfill on Meacham Road was closed due to a settled lawsuit from neighbors because of water quality concerns, green waste is being trucked out of the county to facilities near Ukiah, Napa and Novato. 

“We’ve been working on a process to find a replacement for the compost site that shut down,” says Patrick Carter, Executive Director of the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency. “Part of that was soliciting proposals from the private sector to give us a new destination for that material.”

SCWMA received proposals from both the existing facilities that are currently processing these materials and can continue to do so for the next 20 years, as well as proposals from companies that would build a new compost facility within the county. Proposals were received by BioMRF, Cold Creek Compost/Stage Gulch Organics, Hitachi Zosen Inova, Napa Recycling and Waste Services, Recology, Renewable Sonoma, Sacyr Environmental Management, Storm Fisher Biogas and Waste Management. Proposals from these companies can be viewed at www.recyclenow.org/agency/reports. 

“We’re hoping to have more community feedback because there’s potentially a split in thinking between what’s going to have the least rate payer impact and what is the best solution long term and those may not be the same answer,” says Carter. “If lowest cost is the number one concern, then that may be one company, but if long-term stability and long-term assurance that it’s going to keep up with ever changing regulations in the composting and waste field, a new facility theoretically should be better able to handle that because it’s meeting all the current standards and being designed for meeting the future standards as well. Some people really want there to be a new facility in the county. They want the service and systems to have that supply of finished compost here. And some people don’t necessarily agree with that approach – they don’t feel like the rate payer should be paying more for the convenience of having something local.”

After careful review of the given proposals, the SCWMA is recommending Renewable Sonoma and hopes the Board of Directors, which has representatives from each of the nine Sonoma County cities and one from the county Board of Supervisors, will make a decision at the Aug. 15 board meeting. If approved to move forward, the next steps will include meeting with the board of supervisors and each city council to assure buy-in of the decision. Theoretically a city could decline to participate in hauling their green waste to the new dedicated facility, which would impact the tonnage required to make the economy-of-scale of the new facility work. Therefore, it is crucial before moving forward to ensure that all cities and their franchised haulers are on board with the recommended solution.

Currently 72,000 to 75,000 tons of green waste are trucked out of the county every year and most proposals, Renewable Sonoma included, require a minimum of about 60,000 tons of green waste per year to make building a new facility financially feasible. 

“If we go below the minimum threshold for some of these sites the costs would be too exorbitant that it would be hard to justify paying that much just so we can have something local,” says Carter, “when you could get a cheaper price by continuing to go to these existing facilities.”

If the board and eventually each city, approves the building of a new facility, SCWMA would enter into an agreement with the provider, which would start building the site. Renewable Sonoma estimates about three years for the building of the facility. Green waste will still be trucked out of the county during that timeframe. 

While it is too soon to tell how a new, in-county compost facility will impact residents’ garbage bills, at this point it is estimated to increase by up to several dollars a month. 

Renewable Sonoma proposes the new compost facility to be built adjacent to the wastewater treatment plant on Llano Road, between Highway 116 and Todd Road.