Wednesday, November 16, 2022

HWMA Moving Forward With Organic Waste Facility, Opening Date TBD

Posted By on Wed, Nov 16, 2022 at 10:36 AM

click to enlarge Humboldt Waste Managment Authority
  • Humboldt Waste Managment Authority
The Humboldt Waste Management Authority is moving forward with retrofitting the former Eureka Recycling Center into an organic waste processing facility to meet compliance requirements for Senate Bill 1383, an organic waste recycling mandate, however, the authority doesn’t have an expected opening date, which may impact Humboldt County municipalities with ordinances stating that organic waste curbside collection service would begin by Jan. 1.

Back in June, the HWMA board approved the closure of the Eureka Recycling Center to turn it into an organic waste processing center and tipping floor to meet S.B. 1383 requirements.

S.B. 1383 is climate change law aimed at reducing methane emissions, one of the world’s worst climate pollutants. The law mandates organic waste recycling through a curbside collection and drop-off service. Organic waste recycling will turn food scraps and yard trimmings into organic waste byproducts like compost, mulch or biofuel, in the same way plastics, glass and paper are recycled into new products.

The law required California cities to begin collection service by passing local, enforcable ordinances by 2022 or risk a fine of $10,000 per day from the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). However, CalRecycle gave cities and jurisdictions that submitted “a letter of intent to comply” with an extension, which included all Humboldt County cities and jurisdictions because there is still no local infrastructure to collect, sort, bail and transport organic waste.

HWMA had planned to open the organics processing facility by Jan. 1 and had also planned to relocate the recycling center from its Hawthorne Street location but during an Oct. 13 HWMA meeting, interim HWMA Executive Director Eric Keller-Heckman said that HWMA staff couldn’t meet the expected timeline or relocate the recycling center. He noted he’d bring back options for the board to consider reopening the center. Then, during a Nov. 10 HWMA board meeting, Keller-Heckman recommended keeping the Eureka Recycling Center closed and continuing to upgrade the Hawthorne Street facility to an organic waste recycling facility for S.B. 1383 compliance and pause finding the recycling center a new home while HWMA finishes the most critical project first.

Keller-Heckman couldn’t provide a timeline of when the organic waste processing center would open, which may cause some hiccups for cities that passed ordinances stating organic waste curbside recycling service would start by Jan. 1, 2023. With an unknown timeline of when the sorting facility at HWMA will be open, it’s unclear if cities will meet that deadline.

“I would be hesitant to present you a timeline considering what’s has gone on in the past and timelines that have been presented to this board have not been followed through with, so, I can’t give you a firm date or timeline. What I can say, and I’ll be fully candid with the board and the public, is HWMA staff does not have the bandwidth to assess both of these projects,” Keller-Heckman said. “I simply do not have the bandwidth and I don’t have the time to invest what we will need to be invested staff and time wise into both of these projects. That’s why my recommendation is to not eliminate but suspend assessing the Eureka recycling activities or alternate sites until this project is functional and operational.”

During the Nov. 10 HWMA meeting, board member Frank Wilson voiced his concerns about how behind HWMA is at implementing S.B. 1383 and how long it’s taking to open a processing facility, saying “time just keeps ticking by” without much progress on a facility.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that this was not the first thing that happened over a year ago. This conversation should have been happening several years ago and it’s very unfortunate this conversation did not take place this time last year or earlier,” Keller-Heckman said. “But HWMA staff, member agency staff is committed to trying to move this process along as fast as possible while ensuring the necessary critical pathway is followed to ensure the best decisions are made for HWMA, the authority, its member agencies, and its residents, so I understand your frustration completely. This didn’t sneak up on any jurisdiction or staff member from HWMA but we need to ensure we’re following a pathway to make sure it works out at the end of it.”

HWMA staff identified the three most critical facility upgrades to turn the Eureka Recycling Center into an organic waste processing facility, which included refurbishing the entire facility floor to manage organics processing, purchasing two 40-foot scales to weigh and track the organic waste and replacing five roll-up doors. In total, these upgrades will cost approximately $1.3 million, and there will most likely be additional costs for upgrading the site that has yet to be determined.

HWMA, however, had not budgeted for these improvements when the budget was approved, which restrict how the improvements can be funded. During an HWMA board meeting, Keller-Heckman outlined proposed funding sources with $650,000 coming out of the capital improvements funding budget and $363,000 coming out of the operating reserves.

Staff recommended holding off on replacing the five roll-up doors until more funding is available without having to touch the reserves, and also suggested leasing or financing options instead of buying equipment.

Once HWMA staff begin undertaking these three critical improvement projects, it will allow them to give board members and the general public a more accurate timeline of when the organics processing center will be open.

“At the end of the day, it’s really nice to know that we are going to commit to a path forward and have something to show the jurisdictions so, thanks,” said Meredith Matthews, city of Arcata councilmember and HWMA board member.

As HWMA and the county as a whole move forward with trying to implement S.B. 1383 changes, several cities in Humboldt have sent HWMA a letter of support for a regional approach to implementing S.B. 1383. The letter also pledges each city’s organic waste will go to the HWMA processing facility for “flow control” reassurances.

The board gave staff direction to designate proposed funding sources for facility alterations for the new organic waste facility. HWMA staff will return to the board with a construction bid documents for the alterations and a preliminary implementation schedule to open HWMA’s organics facility at a later date.
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Iridian Casarez

Iridian Casarez was a staff writer at the North Coast Journal from 2019-2023.

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