By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
The newest member of the Del Norte Solid Waste Management Authority said he is neutral on the idea of building a waste-to-energy trash incinerator here.
Some observers, however, say that incinerator proponents have the ear of City Councilman Ray Martell and they worry that he and fellow City Councilman Herb Kolodner could derail plans to build a waste transfer station.
Martell was appointed to the Solid Waste board by Mayor Glenn Gary to take the place of Mickey Youngblood, who resigned his City Council seat last month. He and Kolodner, who has advocated building a trash incinerator, now represent the city on the board.
A waste-to-energy plant would produce electricity by burning trash.
Del Norte County's landfill is nearly at capacity. The planned transfer station would ship local garbage to a landfill in Oregon once the landfill shuts down.
Plans to build a waste transfer station have been in the works for years.
Martell, who attended his first Solid Waste board meeting yesterday, said he has not been sold on the waste-to-energy concept.
"I haven't attended any of the (waste-to-power) meetings since I've been on the City Council, although I went as a member of the rancheria," Martell, the environmental protection manager for Elk Valley Rancheria, said yesterday.
"Since I've been on the council, I've kind of backed away from that. I know Herb has been involved in it."
Local environmentalist Sue Calla, an opponent of the trash incinerator proposal, said she believes Martell is more than neutral about the concept.
"That's not the way he appeared at the City Council meeting I attended," Calla said. "He seemed more than neutral, and I think he sided with Herb Kolodner when he gave his presentation about the incinerator."
While serving on the Solid Waste board, former-City Councilman Youngblood was perhaps the board's most outspoken skeptic of waste-to-energy.
Youngblood's departure and Martell's appointment could significantly change the board.
The Solid Waste board is comprised of five members: Two City Council members, Del Norte County supervisors Jack Reese and Martha McClure, and Del Norte County Fairgrounds Director Randy Hatfield.
In order for any action item to be passed, it must have at least one vote each from the city and the county, plus Hatfield's vote. If both representatives of either the city or county vote against a specific proposal, the item would not pass even if all three of the other members of the board voted in favor, according to Solid Waste Director Kevin Hendrick.
A site for the transfer station has been purchased and most other steps toward construction have been taken, but there are some intangible items that could surface.
A minority voting block could conceivably derail the project simply by voting against a proposal to seek a needed permit.
Waste-to-energy proponents have generally said that it would not be economically feasible or practical to build both a transfer station and an incinerator.
At the Solid Waste board meeting yesterday, Martell asked Hendrick for a comparison of "disposal options."
That request seemed to be interpreted by McClure as an 11th hour consideration of the waste-to-energy option.
"We must have a transfer station ... There will always be a certain amount of trash that will need to be hauled," McClure said. "We need to keep our eyes on the prize and stay focused."
Martell said he believed his question was misinterpreted.
"I am just trying to educate myself. That's all I was looking to do," Martell said after the meeting. "There are a lot of things I need to get up to speed on."
Calla said she has worries about what the agency may decide in the future, judging by comments made during City Council meetings.
"They (Solid Waste officials) have been working toward the transfer station for well over 10 years. It's been a long, contentious period for the community," Calla said. "For new people to come in and talk about this (waste-to-energy) project really concerns me. This should have been talked about at least two years ago or more."