Eagle County will look into recycling situation at Basalt center

Eagle County officials will investigate whether they should play a role in providing a recycling site in the mid-Roaring Fork Valley, though no promises have been made.

Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll said the county commissioners and staff would discuss the issue after Thanksgiving. That will give the staff time to investigate issues surrounding the Basalt recycle center at Willits, he said.

That popular drop-off center’s future is unclear. Basalt and Pitkin County have provided subsidies to Waste Management in recent years to keep the facility open. They contributed $30,000 each this year, according to a recent memo from the town staff to the Town Council. But Pitkin County will no longer contribute to the Willits facility in 2020 as part of a broader policy, the memo said.

Basalt officials decided they cannot cover the entire $60,000 contribution on their own, so they decided to spend their funds on different environmental initiatives headed by their “Green Team” of citizen advisers. A Waste Management official said earlier this month that the company hasn’t determined yet what will happen to the facility in 2020. However, the company said in the past the finances only worked if the governments kicked in funds due to the low cost paid for recycled materials.

A news report of the situation captured the attention of some midvalley residents.

“We have received several emails requesting Eagle County get involved,” Shroll wrote in an email to The Aspen Times. He said he would contact the managers of Basalt and Pitkin County to gather background and their thoughts.

David and Lynne Uhl, residents of unincorporated Eagle County in Missouri Heights, are among constituents lobbying for county intervention. They wrote an email to Shroll and the three county commissioners asking them to support the Willits recycling site or an alternative in the midvalley.

“The residents of southwestern Eagle County need to be included in Eagle County’s recycling program,” they wrote to the county officials. “There are seven subsidized recycling drop-off locations in Eagle County (Gypsum, Eagle, Wolcott, Edwards, Avon, Vail and even tiny Red Cliff).”

The site in Wolcott is the landfill, so there are six drop-off recycling sites — all located in the Eagle Valley. The towns provide the sites and Eagle County pays to haul recycles materials to its materials recovery center.

The Uhls said Monday that they met with Eagle County commission Chairwoman Jeanne McQueeney on Friday during open office hours that county officials hold in El Jebel. She was surprised to learn the midvalley might be without a recycling center and seemed genuinely interested in helping, Lynne Uhl said.

The Uhls said they store up their recyclable items and make a trip to the Willits center about once per two weeks. They feel it is an invaluable service.

“Otherwise we would just throw everything away,” Lynne Uhl said.

The waste haulers serving their neighborhood provide curbside recycling, but it would basically double their monthly bill, David Uhl said.

They believe there is an equity issue involved — Eagle County government provides multiple recycling stations in the Eagle Valley, so it should help in the Roaring Fork portion of the county, where about 15% of the county population lives.

Eagle County’s official environmental policy says, “We are committed to protecting wildlife habitat, protecting clean air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, conserving water in buildings and landscapes, reducing use of paper, increasing waste diversion and recycling, and incorporating clean renewable energy to support our county operations.”

The Uhls desired outcome is for Eagle County to replace Pitkin County in an arrangement with Basalt to help fund the existing center or for Eagle County to provide a recycling site on its own.

“I think something is going to happen. It’s just a matter of coordinating,” David Uhl said.

Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt said she has heard from constituents who don’t want to see the facility closed.

“I think we should talk about that,” she said.

It’s one of those issues where there is a “greater good” created by Basalt helping fund the facility she said, and there’s also a question of Basalt “walking the talk” on environmental issues. She is concerned that doing away with the recycling center will generate more trash for the landfills.

“How many people will just throw (their recyclables) into the waste stream?” Whitsitt asked.

The Basalt council has approved the first reading of its budget last week. It doesn’t include funds for a recycling center. There’s the potential for dipping into a contingency fund, she said.

“If Eagle County steps up, we should, absolutely,” Whitsitt said.