Although Carbondale naysayers are clamoring for an immediate and absolute "no" to the waste transfer facility proposed by Mountain Roll-Offs on County Road 100, it's probably a good thing the county commissioners have deferred their decision for further study.
However, some of the questions swirling around the county's decision go beyond the parameters of the two-month environmental study to be done by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The most thorny is the complaint raised by the operators of the Pitkin County Landfill. They contend MRI will capture a valuable chunk of the trash market in the valley, and that a loss of tipping fees for trash could cut into landfill profits now used to subsidize recycling.
Presumably the state health department's technical review will evaluate the old Mid-Continent coal load-out site and the MRI proposal to see if they meet standards for trash handling. But the review likely won't consider the effect of a potential private sector business on a county government competitor.
Should a public facility's ability to operate trump a private entity's ability to enter the market? Should the Garfield County commissioners be concerned about the effect of a new business in their jurisdiction on a Pitkin County operation, or on recycling efforts at Glenwood Springs' South Canyon Landfill?
To better understand the impact on neighboring landfills, it would be helpful to compare rates for other haulers dumping trash at the MRI facility vs. the landfill.
Coupled with the question of whether a business has a right to compete with a government enterprise is the question of greater good. If keeping waste out of landfills is paramount, will the MRI transfer facility work in favor of or against that goal?
Pitkin County officials have stated that waste revenues subsidize its recycling program. If MRI is successful in its sorting and resource recovery efforts and sends less waste to the landfill, will Pitkin County be forced to end its recycling operation, thereby sending more waste to the landfill?
Which operation will be most successful at separating wheat from chaff: the landfill or MRI? This is going to be a tough one to answer unless MRI is allowed to move forward. The company's business model seems predicated on maximizing resource recovery and minimizing the remaining volumes of trash to be carted off to a landfill, but the Pitkin County Landfill has been effectively doing this work for decades now,
In the long hearing held a week ago and in many letters to the editor, Carbondale area residents expressed opposition to the transfer facility. They cited concerns about truck traffic in sensitive areas, visual impacts of accumulating trash and recyclables, and the transfer facility being a foot in the door for a larger trash-related industry or landfill just outside Carbondale's town limits.
The smattering of transfer facility supporters say the valley should take responsibility for its waste, and allow a private company to aggressively recover reusable materials from the waste stream.
Although this newspaper expressed support for the MRI waste transfer facility proposal in 2011, the implications for neighboring public landfill operations was not an issue. Now it is, and we need to hear more from the publicly owned landfill operations in order to make an informed decision.