Recycling firm faces permit revocation

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

The Sweet Home Planning Commission in May will consider revoking a conditional use permit allowing Western Renewable Resources, formerly Totman Trucking, to operate at 2210 Tamarack St.

The Planning Commission granted a conditional use permit in November 2006 to allow the operation of a recycling business. The operation was to collect fiber from Weyerhaeuser and other customers to be used as livestock bedding, at dairies for example, and for use as industrial fuels, diverting the material from landfills.

The Department of Environmental Quality ordered the operation to stop as of March 30, alleging that the business was operating as a solid waste transfer station.

“DEQ is creating some huge problems for me with their huge mandates,” WRR owner Dan Desler said. “They don’t seem to have any empathy for the jobs we’re creating here.”

It also creates problems for WRR, which is under contract with Weyerhaeuser to take its waste material for recycling, Desler said.

The alleged solid waste transfer activity violates the conditional use permit, Community Development Director Carol Lewis said. It also violates the city’s franchise agreement with Sweet Home Sanitation.

Desler denies that the material stored at the site is solid waste. He said it is inventory.

After initial notification of Western Renewable Resources by DEQ, the company attempted to obtain a solid waste permit, but DEQ turned down the request because WRW did not have a city permit allowing a solid waste transfer operation.

The city cannot grant approval to operate a transfer station because of its franchise agreement, Lewis said.

DEQ Solid Waste Analyst Julie M. Berndt outlined the DEQ’s allegations in a warning letter on Feb. 28.

The primary allegation is that WRR is operating a solid waste disposal site without a permit for old corrugated cardboard and waste plastic.

“Improper management of solid waste can create leachate, which may run off the site into the waters of the state,” Berndt wrote in the letter. It can also create nuisance conditions, such as litter, odor and dust problems, she said.

A solid waste permit was not required based on a different set of operating conditions, including the temporary storage of smaller amounts of the materials inside and quickly moving them off site.

Without a solid waste permit, the DEQ required that WRR stop accepting additional solid waste at the site and submit a plan for removal and disposal of the solid waste, including volume and source of wastes received for the past year, disposition of the wastes received for the past year and a timeline for removal.

With the shrinking of their markets, “we’re the ones that stopped bringing in more material,” Desler said. The operation had enough to bail what it needed for its first shipment of fuel to Asian markets he is developing.

WRR continues to recycle old cardboard fiber into bedding, Desler said.

The DEQ visited WRR’s two sites following complaints. Complainants voiced concerns about, among other things, dust and fibers blowing off the sites, WRR’s site off Highway 20 west of Sweet Home; trash and litter blowing off the property; why the operation was allowed to operate without a solid waste permit; that the Highway 20 site had been abandoned and the waste material is being spread all over the site, possibly affecting water wells; polluted runoff at the Highway 20 site; and that activities at the site were misrepresented by the owners of WRR.

WRR is trying to keep material out of landfills, Desler said. “There’s a real gray area between what is value-added (product) and recyclable and what is garbage.”

The state Legislature needs to address and clarify the issue, Desler said. Other agencies share his goal of keeping material out of landfills, but the DEQ is at odds with that goal.

WRR was supposed to process the material and create value-added products, Desler said. “We did exactly what we said we’d do.”

At one point, a market in Medford became cost prohibitive, and some material had to go to a landfill, Desler said.

That’s not normally what happens to the material, Desler said. Rather, his goal is to divert 200 to 250 tons of materials per year from the landfill.

“Right now, we’re experi-menting with an industrial fuel that can be burned in hog fuel burners,” Desler said. That fuel would incorporate plastic and wood fibers the company receives, something necessary to keep industry running.

Hog fuel and sawdust, which once were given away, are now getting expensive, as they are used to make pellets, Desler said. The new fuel would replace those fuels.

“We’re so close to making that happen it’s ridiculous,” Desler said. The material used in this is inventory, not garbage.

It shows as a $750,000 line item in the company budget, Desler said. “The bank has a security interest in that inventory, and they loaned money on it.”

At the same time, WRR is attempting to develop markets in China and the Philippines for the fuel, Desler said. The DEQ wants WRR to take the material to a landfill.

But when that happens, then the city can claim the business violates its franchise agreement and the conditional use permit, Desler said. “We’re saying we don’t want to haul it to the garbage dump.”

Materials that are not stored inside can be covered by a tarp, Desler said. “That’s good enough.”

The leachate DEQ is concerned about is water, Desler said. “DEQ determined that on more than one occasion.”

Further, the material holds water, he said. The material acts as a sponge.

“We’re not perfect,” Desler said. “We make mistakes.”

But DEQ “thinks” some contaminants were mixed into the grinding of hog fuels, he said, and that’s all it takes to put the whole operation on hold. If materials are contaminated, the problem can be corrected without shutting down the operation.

DEQ is essentially attempting to justify its existence, he said. “They want to stop the jobs, stop the cash flow.”

The conditional use permit for the business expires in November, and WRR plans to have the operation off the property by then.