Garbage piling up at solid waste facility, county asks for dumping hiatus

Whidbey Island residents were asked to stop bringing garbage to county solid waste facilities in Coupeville, Bayview and Oak Harbor last week because trash was piling up at a record rate.

Last month’s ice storm along the Columbia River Gorge halted trains carrying tons of garbage to the Roosevelt Regional Landfill where Island County’s trash ends up, said Joantha Guthrie, Island County Solid Waste Manager.

The quagmire in southern Washington meant silo-size piles of garbage stacked up at the county’s solid waste facility near Coupeville. Instead of 150 tons of trash being hauled away daily, they sat. And sat. It led the county to request people delay bringing their trash to county facilities over the weekend.

Guthrie confirmed Tuesday that the county had since started to dig itself out.

“Things are getting back to normal,” she wrote, in an email to the newspaper.

Wednesday, three trucks with empty containers showed up at the Coupeville station. More arrived Saturday.

Discussions were on-going with public health and environmental health officials about the situation, said Guthrie last week, but stressed the situation was never an emergency.

“We’ve been able to keep up,” she said. “It’s not a panic situation.”

Rail service and highway traffic stopped when an ice storm hit Jan. 18. The disruption was still being disentangled as of late last week, according to Joe Casalini, director of business development of Republic Services. The company hauls garbage from Western Washington county facilities to the Roosevelt landfill.

“Tracks got frozen and trees came down on the tracks,” Casalini said. “It’s happened before. But what made this more difficult was the sheer intensity of the ice storm. It was raining ice on the tracks. Interstate 84 was shut down. I’ve been doing this in Washington for 24 years and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Record garbage piles accumulated at the solid waste facility, where all of Whidbey’s non-military garbage is taken, because the daily back-and-forth flow of garbage got stopped in its tracks.

The facility, which usually processes 150 tons of garbage a day, kept taking in trash but got stuck with it because no one came to pick up its trash.

Wednesday, seagulls savored towering trash heaps instead of the usual scant tidbits. A ripe smell wafted from an area known as the “tipping floor.” That’s where garbage is dumped daily and cleared out by day’s end when semi-trucks arrive to haul it off.

On average, Whidbey’s trash is hauled away by five to six 40-foot-long shipping containers. But when no trucks showed up, the trash piled up. And up.

“Normally this is all cleaned up, every day, and all this litter is not here,” she said, looking up at the towering trash and down at what the wind and birds had scattered.

Even long-time workers at Coupeville’s Solid Waste Facility seemed overwhelmed by the sight.

“I’ve been here 23 years and never seen anything like this,” said Todd Davis, solid waste lead technician. “This is the first time that weather has ever hampered us.”

His colleague, Scott Hambergh, added: “This is the worst I’ve ever seen it. It usually goes in and out of here like clockwork.”

Garbage also froze solid in some Republic shipping containers, which led to an extra step in the trek of trash to the landfill.

“We have big thawing huts we drive the trucks into. It’s 75 degrees and it breaks the ice seal between the garbage and metal,” Casalini said.

Whidbey’s transfer stations continued to accept trash from people who brought it in themselves and pay by the pound. Also, recycling services were not affected.