Pitkin County commissioners hike landfill fee as contractors ignore recycling guidelines

Recent Molly Gibson Lodge demolition, however, demonstrates new ‘gold standard,’ official says

The construction site of the old Molly Gibson Lodge on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, off Main Street in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

Local contractors who ignore Pitkin County’s guidelines on sorting construction and demolition debris before taking it to the landfill are in line to spend a lot more money next year.

Those who pay attention, however, can save money, contribute to the life of the rapidly filling landfill and help improve the quality of life in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, according to one local contractor.

“We saved the client in this situation over $100,000,” said Shay Stutsman, president of Stutsman Gerbaz, that recently tore down the Molly Gibson Lodge on Main Street in Aspen. “We reduced the volume going to the landfill by 70%. We reduced the number of trucks on the road.

“There’s no reason not to do something like this.”

Pitkin County landfill officials and Pitkin County commissioners wish others felt the same as Stutsman. Recent evidence collected at the Pitkin County Solid Waste Center indicates that, despite county efforts to try to change behavior, most do not.

Members of the county board passed a construction and demolition ordinance last year that requires contractors working on demolition projects in unincorporated Pitkin County to put down a deposit of $1,000 per ton on the estimated waste generated by the demolition. If the contractor diverts 25% or more of the waste to recyclable or reusable streams, the deposit is returned in full. Partial deposit returns are made if 20% of the waste is diverted.

Commissioners also introduced a new pricing structure for construction and demolition debris. Sorted loads — those with recyclable and reusable material taken out — pay $93.75 per ton for the first 30 tons, $113.75 per ton for the next 30 tons and $133.75 per ton for loads more than 61 tons.

Unsorted construction and demolition loads — those that contain trash and material that could be recycled or reused — were charged $153.75 per ton in 2021, $60 more per ton than the lowest sorted load amount. The more expensive prices, however, made no difference, said Michael Port, the landfill’s construction and demolition diversion specialist.

“The goal was … to create more economic incentive to separate (trash from reusables),” Port told commissioners Tuesday. “But we’ve seen no significant change in the ratio of trash-only to mixed loads.”

That lack of contractor commitment stuck in the commissioners’ collective craw, so they decided to raise the per-ton amount for unsorted, mixed construction and demolition loads — a lot. Next year, contractors who don’t sort their demolition loads will be charged $198.25 per ton.

“We’ll see if that larger amount has an impact,” Port said.

The amount of money charged for unsorted loads in 2021 already has had an impact on the landfill’s finances. The facility, which is self-sufficient and does not run on taxpayer money, banked more than $1 million this year just from the additional money charged for unsorted construction and demolition debris, Port said.

Cathy Hall, landfill manager, said she’s looking at using the extra money to set up an on-site construction and demolition debris sorting facility “to do it for those who won’t.”

“It’s not like we’re keeping (the extra $1 million) and having a party,” she said.

Construction and demolition debris makes up the largest chunk of waste deposited in Pitkin County’s landfill year after year, Hall has said. That is largely a testament to the constant back-up beeping, breakneck pace of construction in Aspen and Pitkin County, which has increased recently thanks to sky-high pandemic-era real estate demand.

Pitkin County’s Solid Waste Center underwent a modest expansion this summer, while plans for a much larger, more complicated expansion are on the horizon. However, once the landfill is full, that’s it. There simply isn’t another viable location in the county for another one.

That’s why commissioners want contractors to heed the new ordinance.

The construction site of the old Molly Gibson Lodge on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, off Main Street in Aspen.
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times.

The demolition of the Molly Gibson Lodge by Stutsman Gerbaz represents “the gold standard” in conforming to Pitkin County’s vision of the future of construction and demolition debris, Hall said.

First, the company did not have to abide by Pitkin County’s construction and demolition debris because the Molly Gibson was located within Aspen city limits. And second, Stutsman Gerbaz so far has been able to divert 95% of the debris that made up the longtime Aspen lodge, she said.

About 3% of the material was compostable and more than 4% was recyclable, according to Hall. But more than 88% of the material — including lumber, drywall and insulation — was ground up on site, which lowered its total volume, transported to the landfill in fewer trucks and deposited for a discounted rate of $15 a ton because the landfill can use it to cover trash.

Hall said excavated soil and concrete had not yet come in yet, which will likely boost trash numbers. However, the total will far exceed the 25% threshold established by commissioners.

“They got everything out they could,” Hall said. “They diverted all they could. They didn’t have to and they did it (anyway).”

Dave Stutsman, vice president of Stutsman Gerbaz, said the decision to sort the demolition debris was a no-brainer.

“We all live here, so whatever we can do to make it better is good,” said Stutsman, whose family has lived in the valley for more than 100 years. “We don’t need to have our arm twisted.”

Shay Stutsman said the 62-year-old company is investing in European-style heavy equipment and technology that makes achieving the goals outlined in the Pitkin County’s C&D ordinance easier. He said he plans to apply the recycle/reuse principles to future projects.

“We want sustainable growth,” he said. “We want to think outside the box. It not only helps our clients save money, but it helps reduce (impact on) the landfill.”

At the other end of the spectrum is the Sky Hotel, which was torn down at the base of Aspen Mountain in the summer of 2017, three years before the county’s construction and demolition ordinance was proposed. In that case, contractors did what they usually do and knocked it down, trucked it to the landfill and dumped it.

The Sky Hotel — which was replaced by the W Hotel — now occupies 3,030 cubic yards of the Pitkin County landfill, the equivalent of 3,000 people’s yearly trash output.

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