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Sonoma County reduces fees faced by waste hauler at Santa Rosa recycling sites

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Sonoma County health officials have substantially reduced the fines that the region’s largest waste hauler will face for having too much garbage coming into its recycling centers.

Instead of the $5,000-per-day penalties that North Bay Corp. was facing beginning Dec. 1 for exceeding the allowable garbage levels at its Santa Rosa recycling centers, the company will now face fines of $1,000 per day.

The accommodation could end up saving the company more than $200,000 in fines if it remains out of compliance with regulations through the end of the year, which seems likely.

Local regulators agreed to reduce the fines earlier this month in recognition of the good faith the company has shown and measures it has taken to address the problem, said Christine Sosko, the county’s director of environmental health and safety.

The lower fines also will allow the company to put more of its resources into solutions, she said.

“The difference in the fine schedule will allow them the opportunity to do more education and outreach in the community,” Sosko said.

After a complaint was filed with the state, the county informed North Bay in August that its two Standish Avenue recycling facilities were processing more than the allowed 10 percent nonrecyclable material. Operations below 10 percent don’t need a solid waste processing permit; those above 10 percent do.

The facilities are where most of the material people place in their blue recycling bins is sorted and repackaged before being sold into the ever-tighter market for bulk recyclable material.

The company has said that people filling blue bins with household garbage, as well as material they think is recyclable but really isn’t, are to blame for the problem, as is the wholesale market’s requirement for cleaner recyclable material.

After issuing a cease-and-desist order, the county imposed fines that started at $250 per day beginning Aug. 28 and ramped up to $5,000 per day beginning Dec. 1.

“We needed to see progress from them, and based on the information we had at the time, that was what was fair and reasonable,” Sosko said.

After additional conversations with company representatives and state officials, however, the county agreed to lower the fine schedule to max out at $1,000 per day in December.

The county did so in recognition of several factors. The company agreed to pursue new permits for both facilities, hired a new consultant to help them secure those permits, brought on a general manager and was working to educate residents about the new recycling guidelines, Sosko said.

The new structure resulted in fines of $21,000 from August through the end of October, for which the company has been billed, she said. Under the old fine schedule, the penalty would have been approximately $52,750.

But the real savings come in November and December, when the previous fines would have been $3,000 per day and $5,000 per day, respectively. The new rates are $750 per day for November and $1,000 per day in December. That means November fines that could have been up to $90,000 will max out at $22,500, and December fines that could have been $155,000 will max out at $31,000. The actual fines may be lower based on the number of days the company operates during those months and whether it can get below the 10 percent threshold.

In addition to revamping the 2015 fine schedule, the county established a fine schedule for 2016 that lays out separate penalties for each facility and provides incentives that peg the fines to the percentage of garbage in the recycling stream and the progress the company makes toward its permits.

For example, if the company’s garbage rate is 30 percent, the fine would be $3,000 per day, but if it is between 10 percent and 15 percent, the fine would be just $300 per day. The schedule is reduced even further if the company submits draft and final waste permit applications to CalRecycle, the state waste agency.

Eric Koenigshofer, a former county supervisor and attorney who represents the company, said the $5,000 represented the maximum fine allowed by state law. It makes sense, he said, for regulators to issue lower fines to a company that is cooperating and is seeking permits that might take some time to be approved.

Residents are doing a better job of putting only truly recyclable material in the blue bins, he said, and the company is hopeful that it can get below the 10 percent level.

The most recent figures show one facility at 17 percent garbage and the other at 59 percent.

“We are fully on board with the county and CalRecycle to get this thing straightened out,” said Koenigshofer.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

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