Todd Davis, lead technician at Island County’s Solid Waste Facility near Coupeville, stands in front of record heaps of garbage that normally is cleared out daily. It piled up because of a paralyzing ice storm in southcentral Washington last month. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

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

Residents asked to hold onto their trash for the weekend

Whidbey Island residents are being asked to stop bringing garbage to county solid waste facilities in Coupeville, Bayview and Oak Harbor because trash is 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, it sat. And sat.

“We ask that you postpone bringing in solid waste to our facilities over the weekend,” Guthrie said. “Due to recent severe weather, train service has been disrupted impacting operations at our Island County Solid Waste Facilities.”

Garbage pick-ups won’t be affected.

Guthrie stressed that the situation isn’t an emergency and that the county is starting to dig itself out. Wednesday, three trucks with empty containers showed up at the Coupeville station. More were expected today.

The stoppage request affects only those who bring in their own trash or make “dump runs” to solid waste facilities in Coupeville, Bayview and Oak Harbor, Guthrie said. Recycling services are not affected.

Discussions were on-going with public health and environmental health officials about the situation, Guthrie said.

“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 is still being disentangled, said 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 that 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, Guthrie said.

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 bring it in themselves and pay by the pound. But on Thursday, the county decided to ask for a volunteer stoppage for the weekend.

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