6 January 2010: Material Recovery Facility

‘Transfer Center’ elicits anger projection

If you feel the July 4th fireworks display in Georgetown is insufficient, try attending a planning commission meeting on the eve of New Year’s Eve.

On the agenda was only one issue: the proposal by Larry Romine of Timberline Disposal to build a material recovery facility — or MRF — in Georgetown’s Gateway Mountain Industrial District.

After a number of speakers referred to the proposed site as a “transfer center,” planning commission member Kathy Hunninen had enough: “It’s not a transfer center,” Hunninen vociferously stated. Then, after verbal jousts with fellow board and audience members, Hunninen was ejected from the meeting by planning commission Chair Cynthia Skeen.

With regard to being ejected, Hunninen says: “The health of a democracy is only assured if citizens have knowledge or true facts to make responsible decisions through democratic processes. Without knowledge, it doesn’t work.”

Hunninen holds she was illegally removed at the demand of the town attorney and mayor and was thereby “stripped of her right to represent the interests of the residents by securing the best information for them they can use to make a decision.”

When I asked Skeen if she was under any pressure “to keep a lid on it,” she said no one told her to do that but was asked by “a couple of people” to ensure the meeting was “fair and unbiased.”

“My goal was to run a fair and civilized meeting. When the applicant is getting screamed at, it wasn’t possible to do that. I think Kathy misunderstood her role even though she was the one who requested the PC hold the hearing so the process would be followed.”

Hunninen insists she is “not biased.”

The proposal has been controversial in part due to the perception it was able to circumvent the traditional route through the PC apparently due to opinions written by former town administrator Cory Nicholson, who first said the proposal fit in with guidelines, then wrote he was wrong about that, and, finally, wrong about being wrong.

Fireworks aside, the issue came down to whether Romine’s proposal was being defined as light or heavy industry and, therefore, fitting into the town’s regulations for the GMID.

The site, if approved, would have the capacity to process 100 tons of garbage daily, much of it from Summit County, the goal of which would be to separate recyclables from pure trash that ultimately go into a landfill.

Georgetown does not have language differentiating between heavy and light industry, so more widely accepted standards seemingly prevail. As such, Hunninen clicked off four criteria for heavy industry and insisted the proposed MRF meets all four: very heavy incoming raw material; heavy equipment used for processing; industry negatively impacting the environment; and end-user not the consumer but another manufacturer.

Craig Abrahamson, architecture consultant who assisted Timberline Disposal with developing its operating plan, maintains the proposed site “fits within the confines of the zoning regulations for the Gateway Mountain Industrial District.”

About two dozen citizens showed up and a number spoke, some raising questions on a range of issues including noise and odor pollution, traffic, environmental impacts on the land and the wildlife, especially the bighorn sheep, seepage from garbage trucks, and safety with regard to toxins getting into the groundwater or the Georgetown wastewater system.

“I believe in ‘green,’ but the location is a concern,” said Cora Lu Anderson. “We have to be careful about our ‘green areas’ not creating more problems.”

When PC member Jan Shirlaw asked why Timberline Disposal wasn’t pursuing developing the site in Summit County, Romine said it would be “almost impossible to establish one there.”

Shirlaw, along with concerns about “wind, smell, birds and environment,” also asked about the potential for tires catching on fire, but Romine said that in his nearly 40 years in the business, that had happened on only one or two occasions.

Several voiced support for the project. Amy Romine and Sean Hinchliffe of Green Waste and Recycling support the proposal and hope that the MRF, along with Green Waste and Recycling’s efforts, will encourage more people to act more responsibly when discarding their trash.

PC member Kerry Ann McHugh says, “I think the noise, smell, vector attraction, wastewater disposal and the bighorn sheep issues can be mitigated and further enforced via the operational plan. Having the entire operation enclosed in one building is key to this mitigation.”

Abrahamson says, “The operating plan met the state guidelines, which do not cover such issues as noise and environment. While those are valid concerns, the first question for the Board of Selectmen is whether the proposed site fits in with allowed use.

“We are happy to have this conversation and getting everyone’s opinion, so a good decision could be made.”

McHugh agrees: “I hope that, given the feedback of the community, TD will use this opportunity to address the concerns of the public. Having these issues vetted before they proceed with the Board of Selectmen is a benefit to both the applicant and the community.”

In the end, Shirlaw voted with Skeen, who also voiced concerns during her questioning, to recommend the BOS deny the application.

In closing, Shirlaw suggested the Jan. 12 meeting be moved to the community center: TBA. But, mark your calendar. Flying spinners, Roman candles and skyrockets will provide the backdrop.

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