Finding an effective recycling method is an issue that extends beyond Charleston; it’s prevalent at the county level as well.
The City of Charleston is looking for ways to revamp its recycling program after doing away with the bag program, and one of the many options under consideration was a possible partnership with the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority. A partnership isn’t off the table, but the Solid Waste Authority has had its own host of issues throughout the years.
As of now, the Solid Waste Authority is too short staffed and does not have the proper building and equipment to be able to take Charleston’s recyclables, Solid Waste Authority board member Dave Armstrong told the Gazette-Mail in an interview.
Most recently, the Solid Waste Authority found its equipment was insufficient, which is why the facility had to stop taking cardboard in early May. The baler at the Solid Waste Authority’s site in Sissonville wasn’t able to bring in the cardboard before it got wet in the rain, making it “contaminated.” This means it couldn’t be sold.
However, things were looking up when the Solid Waste Authority received a grant to purchase a baler that could handle a larger load of recyclables. Armstrong thought they would be able to start taking cardboard again in the fall. However, he soon found out the company the authority was going to purchase the baler from intends to file for bankruptcy.
Armstrong said he’d already placed a $20,000 deposit, but doesn’t know if the authority will see that money again. He’s also not sure if they’ll be able to take cardboard by fall, which was the initial goal.
The city has been exploring how other municipalities, such as Parkersburg, run their programs. The city of Parkersburg has a partnership with its solid waste authority to provide a drop off program and curbside pick up for residents.
That program is paid for by refuse fees, which are $16 a month. As of now, Charleston has an $18 monthly fee. If Charleston were to create a similar program the fee would have to increase to $23 because the capital city has more residents, said Alex Gallo, the community relations coordinator for the Goodwin administration.
“If there is a will from the Solid Waste Authority to really make this work, we could work on a grant to fund this, but we don’t want to work on this huge grant if it’s going to go nowhere,” Gallo told the Environmental and Recycling Committee last week.
Some council members questioned why the refuse fee is at its current amount.
“We’re only spending $2 more and we don’t even have that program,” Councilwoman Deanna McKinney, a Democrat representing Ward 6, said at last week’s committee meeting.
Another idea that has been discussed was creating a facility similar to Beckley’s at the Slack Street location. However, this would require grant funding or loans, which would be difficult to get for that specific property.
Previously in the city’s history, there was a power plant there, Armstrong said. This left carcinogens and contaminants in the ground. If the Solid Waste Authority was to apply for grants they would be required to do environmental studies on the property and then remediation.
“I’d like to put a modest $60,000 to $70,000 into building there and move our equipment, but after studies and remediation you’re at $1.5 million,” Armstrong said.
In 2015, the old Slack Street building had to be demolished because the fire marshal came in and deemed it unsafe. Throughout the years, the staff began to dwindle and now there are only two employees.
It’s also not Armstrong’s full-time job to run the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority. He’s a county employee who was appointed to run it. County Commission President Kent Carper said it’s somewhat misleading that it’s called the county’s Solid Waste Authority.
“It was set up by the Legislature, technically, not the county; to some extent we don’t even have full control over the board,” Carper said. “But I have full-time employees work down there [for the Solid Waste Authority] to subsidize the program because otherwise we wouldn’t have one.”
When asked if the county would provide funding for employees for a recycling program he said it’s ultimately the responsibilities as outlined in state code.
“There’s no interest in folks out in the county in paying more taxes so they can subsidize it for municipalities to recycle,” Carper said.
However, the Kanawha Solid Waste Authority didn’t always run such a barebones operation. It used to make a little over a million dollars in a year. Charleston brought 92 tons of material a week, which is a lot compared to other municipalities, Armstrong said.
“Eight years ago we had more employees and two sort lines. It was a well-oiled machine,” Armstrong told the committee of the former facility. “Then a private individual came in there and stole them blind. So they lost just about everything.”
However, a new facility is something that wouldn’t be likely to come to fruition until further in the future, Environmental and Recycling Committee Chairman John Bailey said.
A more immediate solution Bailey said he wants to explore is providing a bin as an option for those who would want to purchase one. He plans to discuss that option in more detail at the committee meeting at 5:30 p.m. next Monday.
“To get a facility like Beckley or Parkersburg is a lot of money,” Bailey said. “I would have that as a long term goal, but that’s not something we can do easily right away without spending a couple million dollars.”