March 23, 2010 in City

Yard waste haulers to see service trims

Discounts, extra hours at transfer stations would end
By The Spokesman-Review

Fast facts

•Free and discounted yard waste accounted for 24 and 48 percent, respectively, of yard waste trips to transfer stations but only 2 and 6 percent of yard waste tonnage in 2008.

•With 465,000 yard waste customers and $3.4 million in operating costs in 2008, the average cost per customer was $7.47.

•Hourly revenue in 2008 dropped precipitously after 5 p.m.

Source: Russ Menke, Solid Waste System director

People who haul their own yard waste will likely confront shorter hours and no discounts at solid waste transfer stations this spring.

The change coincides with elimination of the usual eight-day spring yard waste burning season in rural portions of Spokane County.

Public officials say the good news is that there would be less confusion about yard waste hauling under changes proposed by the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System.

Officials hope to save $250,000 to $300,000 a year in labor costs with a package of reforms aimed at reducing hours of operation and the number of customers who bring small loads of yard waste.

The $35-a-ton “clean green” rate with a $5 minimum would remain unchanged, but extended hours and discounts would be eliminated.

Spokane County commissioners recently approved the changes, and the Spokane City Council plans to consider the issue Monday.

Solid Waste officials are shooting for a May 1 implementation, although new hours would take effect April 1.

If the City Council agrees, April will be the last month for customers to take advantage of a discount that makes the first 100 pounds of yard waste free.

In the past, availability of that discount has varied by season, day, hour, facility and customer age. Now, as proposed, the discount wouldn’t exist in any form after April 30.

Extended spring and summer hours also will be eliminated.

Effective April 1, all transfer stations – North County, Spokane Valley and the Waste-to-Energy Plant – will operate from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week throughout the year except for major holidays.

“That is going to eliminate a lot of confusion for our customers,” spokeswoman Robyn Dunlap said. “Literally every day we had a different schedule.”

Solid Waste System Director Russ Menke told county commissioners that the recycling hot line receives about 1,000 calls a month, and 38 percent are to ask when a transfer station will be open.

The number of customers using transfer stations between 5 and 6 p.m. has dropped consistently since 2001, and the dropoff has been greater between 6 and 7 p.m., Menke told commissioners.

People have been turning to garbage haulers for yard waste service, Menke said. He recommended that approach along with composting as more cost-effective ways of dealing with yard waste.

Meanwhile, the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency suggests the transfer stations among other alternatives for rural residents who are no longer allowed to burn their yard waste.

As announced two years ago, Spokane Clean Air will prohibit all yard waste burning throughout Spokane County this year.

The agency said some residents may be able to burn forest debris – trees, brush, stumps, limbs and needles – from unimproved land outside urban growth areas by obtaining silviculture permits from the state Department of Natural Resources.

The permits cost $25.50 a year for up to 99 tons, but a DNR spokeswoman said they are available only for property covered by a state forest fire protection assessment.

Residents should check their property tax assessment records for the fire tax, which typically is $17.70 per parcel. For more information, call the DNR’s Colville office at (509) 685-6900.

For those who prefer other approaches, the Spokane County Master Composters will provide training April 10, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Fire District 4’s Station 49, at U.S. Highway 395 and Monroe Road.

Also at that event, Spokane Clean Air and ABCO Wood Recycling will accept yard waste free. And representatives of Spokane Clean Air and the DNR will be on hand to discuss burning regulations.

For more information about a master composting training program that began this week, call the recycling hot line at (509) 625-6800.

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