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After years of distrust, a new start
The festering debate between Mono County and Town of Mammoth Lakes over how to deal with garbage got an infusion of fresh air last week.
Mammoth’s town manager took the reins and asked both sides to focus on one thing and one thing only—the numbers.
Garbage might sound like a mundane thing, but it is incredibly expensive to manage—expensive enough to financially break entire counties and towns, if not dealt with right.
Mammoth Lakes Town Manager Marianna Marysheva-Martinez, said taking the emotion out of the issue—the personality conflicts, the long-standing breakdown in communication—is imperative. The numbers—what does it cost to take care of the garbage based on the best options and what is each entity’s fair share of that cost—are what is critical.
“We need to focus on three main things,” she said. “One is whether or not a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) is really the best and only option.”
(A MRF is a recycling facility that would transform garbage into recycled materials and keep it out of landfills, a high priority for the state. Locally, ‘to-build-or-not-to-build’ a MRF has been at the heart of the breakdown between the Town and county, with the Town arguing the state is forcing it to build this recycling facility and the county unconvinced of the necessity for a MRF).
“Two,” she continued, “if a MRF is the optimal and only option—and I have asked staff on both sides to talk to the state again and find out for sure if this is our only option—how are we going to build it, and where?” she said.
“Three, how are we going to move forward, the Town included, on preparing to close the Benton Crossing landfill? What is the Town’s portion of this cost, what is the county’s? How will we pay for it?”
Mono County Supervisor Byng Hunt, who attended a meeting last week where county and Town officials gathered to hash out “the solid waste issue”, said he was relieved and pleased at Marysheva-Martinez’s ability to focus on the pragmatic questions, not personality issues, and her willingness to talk openly to the county about the Town’s perspective.
He was also impressed, he said, that she was willing to ask questions about issues—such as the ‘inevitability’ of the Town needing to build a MRF in the first place—and include the county in this discussion. He was also pleased that she accepted that the Town was responsible for some part of closing the Benton landfill when the lease is up in 2023. This issue—of who will pay to maintain, close and monitor the landfill, has been a big one for the county, because town residents create about 80 percent of all the garbage in the landfill.
“This is the most hopeful I’ve felt about this issue in a long, long time,” Hunt said Tuesday at a county supervisors meeting.
Marysheva-Martinez also said looking anew at whether the current parcel of privately owned land now under consideration for purchase by the Town and next to the existing recycling facility, is still worth pursuing.
“There may also be other alternatives,” she said, citing a 2010 study that outlines alternatives.
Coming up with a ‘formula’ that would fairly assign the cost of maintaining, closing and monitoring the Benton Landfill was another suggestion she put on the table at last week’s meeting, she said.
“There will probably be a formula we can agree on,” she said.
County and Town staff will bring the issue back to the table in June, the next time the Town/County Liaison members meet again, she said.