Recommendations for Solid Waste

The San Juan County Solid Waste program is in trouble. For starters we suggest the following:

The Council needs to declare a financial emergency. Expenses need to be brought in line with revenues. It won’t be easy this time of year, because volumes are normally too low to break even in the off-season. Some drastic actions will help.


Allow free recycling of materials that produce revenue such as separated aluminum, cardboard and some glass. Watch the markets, stockpile and sell when the markets are right. Continue to charge for all other recyclables. Restart free recycling of other materials when you can afford to.

Suspend all other non-revenue-producing programs except the Management Plan update.

Adopt a plan amendment to cover these changes. The current county plan is from 1996. It was adopted by ordinance and is part of the County Code. It specifies that, among other things, recycling will be free and facilities will be owned and operated by public agencies. The Council

risks legal action by not following its own Code.


Charge all customers the same disposal rate with one exception. Offer Friday Harbor a reduced rate to get them back into the system, so long as the rates contribute to covering fixed costs. Commercial and self-haul should be the same. The flow control ordinance will keep San Juan Sanitation in the system.


Reduce facility hours in the off-season. Reduce staff as well. Do it immediately. For example, there is no need for two people working at the Lopez facility, except in summer. The state auditor’s concern about one person handling cash is not persuasive. Encourage volunteer help when possible. Create an Inter-Local Agreement with the Port of Lopez to operate the Lopez facility. The Port can then partner with a community non-profit recycling group for management.

Capital Projects:

Delay or abandon all capital projects except those directly related to compliance with minimum functional standards. Look to the Capital Improvements Fund for resources.


Remove Solid Waste from Public Works and attach it to Health & Community Services at least for the duration of the emergency. It’s a natural fit. The Solid Waste chapters in the Code are part of Title 8 Health and Safety for a reason. Put one person in charge of Solid Waste. Reassign or lay off all administrative staff except the manager and planner. Make the planner a part time position.

Do not allow staff from other departments to charge time to Solid Waste unless expressly requested by the manager.

Do not rent equipment from ER&R unless their rental rate is less than other vendors. In the longer term, purchase equipment rather than renting it.

When waste hauling contracts are up for renewal, put them out to bid.

Decouple operations from garbage collection!

The declaration of emergency should be evaluated after one year.

These island communities have long been known to succeed with the impossible when we have community support and when we have done our due diligence. Let’s make the Solid Waste Program a success in San Juan County.

Submitted by: Concerned Lopezians; Suzanne Berry (former Lopez solid waste employee), Larry Eppenbach (former state treasurer of Alaska), Ed Stuhr (former SJC solid waste manager), Ed Kilduff (Solid Waste Advisory Committee, SWAC member), Sandy Bishop (non-profit executive director), Rhea Miller (former SJC Commissioner).