Recycling in Blaine County took a step forward Monday when the Blaine County Commission approved a significant upgrade to the Ohio Gulch recycling station.
The station, which is in a heightened state of disrepair and is said to pose a safety risk to employees, will be expanded to include a new processing area. The upgrades are expected to cost about $1.5 million, with no expense to taxpayers anticipated.
The county, which funds the recycling center, assembled a task force to investigate potential solutions more than a year ago. Among the options was a proposal to build an entirely new station. But Terry Schultz, executive director of Southern Idaho Solid Waste, which manages the station, said steel and concrete costs have risen significantly while the facility's revenues have decreased. Building a brand new station would not be practical at this point, he said.
Still, Schultz maintained that the facility is falling apart, difficult to operate and dangerous.
"We don't want to go through another winter with the equipment and facility in the shape it's in," he said.
Ron LeBlanc, Ketchum city administrator and a member of the county's solid waste task force, suggested that the "commission might want to take some baby steps to get to the final outcome."
One of those baby steps could be interim safety improvements that would cost about $750,000. Before LeBlanc could elaborate, he was cut off since most agree that the facility is in need of more than a temporary fix.
Robin Baumgartner, public education coordinator for Southern Idaho Solid Waste, said LeBlanc's proposed baby steps would constitute a "three quarters of a million dollar band aid" and that it would not solve the problem in the long run.
Shultz stressed that the roughly $1.5 million upgrade would keep the facility running for an additional 20 years. And while Baumgartner said she and staff members would prefer a new facility, since it would help the entire operation run much more efficiently, she is satisfied with the current proposal.
"The expansion is great. It will help tremendously," she said.
Marisa Nelson, assistant community development director for the city of Sun Valley, stressed that the facility's role could change in the future with the creation of new energies, such as biomass.
"Our needs will change," Nelson said. "These are all things at the vanguard, and it would be a serious fault on our part to not be more ambitious."
Wendy Pabich, a water scientist who's been conducting research locally on wastewater and energy alternatives, noted that extracting energy from waste could in the long run result in profound savings for the county.
Southern Idaho Solid Waste will pin down a bid on the costs of the expansion and report back to the county.