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