Transfer Station lines

A line of cars waits to enter the scale house at the Teton County Transfer Station on a Saturday morning in 2019. An audit performed last year suggests that the county could improve capacity and congestion at the station with $6 million in upgrades. 

The cities and county, along with the local waste hauler and Teton Valley Community Recycling, are having conversations on how to avoid spending millions to increase capacity at the county transfer station.

A 2020 audit by Great West Engineering revealed that the transfer station could use some major improvements in order to accommodate increased growth and demand in the Teton Valley community, including from across the state line in Alta and Grand Targhee.

GWE forecasted an annual five percent average waste growth (around 33,000 tons of trash per year) and estimated the transfer station would see around 400 vehicles per day, with peaks up to 600.

A big factor behind the need for more infrastructure at the transfer station is the number of customers, which has led in the past couple of years to congestion and long wait times at the scale. Thus, one of the big ticket items recommended by GWE is a second scale house, with additional staff and a new entrance road.

The price tag for short and long term upgrades meant to increase efficiency and capacity at the transfer station totaled nearly $6 million.

While the Teton Board of County Commissioners hasn’t completed its review of the audit, local waste and recycling hauler RAD Curbside took it as an opportunity to bring forward a proposal from the company’s 2015 diversion plan: curbside service for all residents. It would be billed as a city utility similar to water and sewer service for city residents, while the county would need to determine a billing structure since it does not have that mechanism in place.

In a presentation to the governing bodies of Driggs, Victor, and the county (as of last week, Tetonia had not responded to a request to present before that city council), RAD Curbside co-founder Dave Hudacsko has laid out the possible monthly service fee: $35 for weekly trash pick-up and biweekly recycling. On paper it will cost some residents more than they currently spend if they self-haul or have a low-frequency contract with RAD, but there would be cash incentives for residents to generate less trash and to recycle. Also, he noted, all taxpayers would have to foot the bill for transfer station upgrades.

“The cost is inevitable,” Hudacsko told the Driggs City Council on March 23. “One way or another, all residents will experience those costs, unless we choose to manage the way in which the waste is delivered to the transfer station. I see this as an opportunity—instead of spending your money [on renovation], at least get the benefit of having the service at your curbside, while increasing diversion.”

None of the entities have signed onto the idea yet, expressing reservations at mandating curbside service for their citizens and asking for more data and collaboration between the involved parties. The county, which will soon renew its franchise agreement with RAD, agreed to further explore the proposal in upcoming negotiations.

“In general I would like for us to hold off on a huge capital expanse like a second scale that is oriented to increase capacity,” said Commissioner Bob Heneage during a work session last Wednesday. “I think we need to focus some of our discussion on exhausting all the ideas we can generate on alternative, inexpensive, passive solutions that are oriented toward mitigating or decreasing demand before we launch into increasing capacity.”

His fellow commissioners agreed; they told public works director Darryl Johnson to pursue new signage and fencing at the transfer station as he had originally requested, and to look into the feasibility and cost of putting a separate recycling center outside of the station.

The benefit of the external recycling center would be fewer visitors crossing the scale just to drop off small household loads. The county’s new solid waste manager, Dann O’Donnell, said that between 18 and 20 percent of transfer station visitors are only bringing recycling loads. He said the external center would make the system more efficient, and could even include a household trash bin, monitored by a staff person, where residents could dump a maximum of two bags at a charge of $5.

In the meantime, TVCR is eying new diversion opportunities, including textile recycling and food waste composting. The nonprofit recently hired Andrea Swedberg to manage the food waste and compost program, and O’Donnell is confident that can happen at the transfer station. “We do really well with our animal composting—I think it’s the smallest problem to figure out what to do with our food compost,” he told the county commissioners at their solid waste work session.

TVCR executive director Iris Saxer asked for the county’s cooperation in establishing a solid waste committee made up of TVCR, RAD, the public works department, and other government entities, to maintain an ongoing conversation on waste and diversion efficiency.

The commissioners agreed that such a committee was necessary for future efforts.