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‘Need to step away from the past and focus on our future’

Guest Opinion

Solid waste issues in Idaho County

Idaho County: Large

Garbage: Lots

Dumpster Abuse: Illegal

Misinformation: Lamentable

Trust: Lacking

Guest Opinion

By Janie Fluharty, chair

Idaho County Recycling

We are messing our nest. Our trash is everywhere; strewn along roadways, heaped in containers, scattered around dumpsters. For years, county residents had access to multiple dumpster sites and, for prairie folks, an accessible transfer station. Several factors necessitated changes to that comfort zone.

First was the national environmental trend to reduce open dumpsters, which are unsightly, hazardous, difficult to manage and a liability. Despite initial grumbling, the Clearwater and Salmon River communities have successfully transitioned to fewer dumpsters; now it’s the prairie’s turn. Second, when the 2012 round of solid waste contract was open to the bidding process by contractor request, the new contract was awarded to Simmons Sanitation with a significant savings to taxpayers.

Currently, there has been an upsurge of complaints, anger and dumpster abuse. To mitigate those concerns, the commissioners have proposed two “mega-dumpster” sites for the Camas Prairie . . . but rumor and old grudges threaten to sidetrack this good idea. Unfortunately, the proposal of a landfill site near Grangeville in 2011 made Idaho County residents jittery and suspicious of any subsequent solid waste solutions. (The realization of the Idaho Batholith and critical aquifers are a natural assurance that will preclude any landfills in the area).

However, now we need to step away from the past and focus on our future. The current quest to find and develop suitable multi-purpose sites would offset the inconvenience of a distant transfer station, address the solid waste tax burden on county property owners and eliminate messy dumpsters. This would not be a landfill! These would be carefully monitored, topside facilities with minimal noise, ground or air pollution. They would be clean, secure, full-service sites that would rectify a swarm of concerns and problems.

Garbage does not just disappear. The “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality is hurting Idaho County. Every ton of solid waste generated in Idaho County has to go somewhere. Every ton of solid waste collected in Idaho County has associated hauling and disposal costs: salaries, trucks, repairs, maintenance, fuel, tipping fees. The math is simple: more garbage = more expense. If garbage hauling and clean-up costs continue to escalate, someone will have to pay. Guess who? Conversely, there is a market return on recyclables which is better than putting county money down a landfill rat hole. The removal of recyclables from the county’s waste stream only requires a short haul to Lewiston and there are no tipping fees. Since 2009, Idaho County Recycling has saved the county haulers thousands of dollars each year and is currently collecting about 60,000 pounds of recycling materials every month.

Consider this: Half of dumpster contents could be recycled or reused. Recycling is the updated version of “dumpster diving” in which “found” reusable items are removed from the waste stream. Recycling is an easy way to help your county deal with the solid waste problem. It takes little effort or expense to set up a home-based recycling center. A couple boxes or plastic tubs and you’re in business. Everyone benefits. The rewards are ample: participating in an earth-based activity, teaching kids responsibility and land stewardship and saving the county money — lots of it.

What is needed now is some down-home community cooperation. Let’s transfer our rural, local pride into a grand effort to develop some solid waste sites.

Easy Immediate Solutions:

  1. Frequent monitoring of dumpsters and regular citations by the county sheriff’s department
  2. Installation of 24/7 dumpster site cameras
  3. A volunteer “Dumpster Watch” program
  4. Increase participation in the county’s recycling program

Long-Term Solutions:

  1. What’s in a name? Based on the current county situation, a “mega-dumpster site” conjures an immediate picture of an even bigger mess. For starters, let’s identify a central collection area as a solid waste depot. Imagine a clean, secure, full-service, well-engineered facility. What could be more convenient and beneficial than well-organized sites for everything — from rubbish to recycling.
  2. Help your commissioners find acceptable, affordable sites for solid waste depots in the county.
  3. Encourage your commissioners to be transparent as they work through the process by keeping the public regularly informed and by soliciting public assistance and ideas to solve the problem. Commission agendas and meeting notes are available at
  4. Advocate for an equitable solid waste fee formula for county residents — especially businesses and agricultural properties.


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