Regulators Turn Up Heat on ‘Illegal’ North Bay Corp. Recycling Site

By - KEVIN MCCALLUM, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Santa Rosa CA (12/13/2016) - Regulators appear to be losing patience with Sonoma County’s largest garbage hauler for its continued use of unpermitted Santa Rosa recycling facilities, hiking fines on the company and referring it to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution.

Sonoma County health officials are threatening to levy fines of up to $5,000 per day on North Bay Corp. for operating two recycling facilities on Standish Avenue in defiance of a cease-and-desist order that is now nearly 16 months old.

The company argues it would be “an impossibility” to shut down both facilities because it would prevent the company from picking up curbside recycling.

The beefed up enforcement follows an inspection last month by state waste regulators who noted longstanding problems at the facilities and instructed local officials to turn up the heat on the hauler.

Officials at CalRecycle last week said “immediate enforcement action is required” to address the “illegal operations” on the property, warning that “further extensions to cease operation and correct violations are not appropriate.”

“CalRecycle is very concerned that these sites have disregarded the (Sonoma County Environmental Health Department) orders,” reads the letter, signed by Georgianne Turner, chief of the agency’s enforcement branch.

Sonoma County officials responded two days later with a letter to North Bay hiking fines and threatening to get prosecutors involved.

“This is the first time in my 10-plus years here at the county that we have referred an enforcement case to the District Attorney,” said Christine Sosko, the county’s environmental health director.

“This is a significant step in our enforcement case involving North Bay Corporation.”

The escalation in the standoff comes even as the company Monday shut down the larger of the two recycling facilities in preparation for a $5 million upgrade, which is expected to take up to four months to complete.

During that period, the company plans to haul up to 315 tons of recycling per day from Sonoma County to facilities as far away as Lodi for sorting and processing, a significant additional expense and environmental impact.

But since the county and north Marin communities serviced by the company produce even more recycling — 350 tons daily — North Bay says it need to keep its smaller Standish Road facility operating despite the cease-and-desist order.

“It’s an impossibility to shut them both down at the same time,” Eric Koenigshofer, vice president for special projects for the company, said Monday. Doing so would be a “calamity.”

He said the North Bay company contacted every recycling facility in the region in an effort to see if they could help process Sonoma County’s recycling, but wasn’t able to find enough capacity to handle it all.

As it is, the company has struck deals to pay recycling centers in Vallejo, Marysville, Stockton, Lodi and Fremont to accept Sonoma County recycling.

But getting the recycling there will be a challenge. The material picked up from the blue bins by neighborhood trucks will have to be emptied out and repacked into longer transfer trucks for the haul out of the county, Koenigshofer said.

Some of this will happen at the Redwood Landfill and some at a North Bay facility in Petaluma, while the smaller facility in Santa Rosa will partially sort material, he said.

It’s this plan to continue using the smaller Standish Road facility without state or county approval that seems to have irked waste officials.

“This enforcement letter is basically saying, ‘Look, we need both sites shut down,’” Sosko said.

The county threatened to impose fines of $5,000 per day on each site, but since the large facility is already shut down, practically speaking only the smaller site is facing the steeper fines.

But they could still add up. To date, the county fined North Bay $575,600 for continuing to run facilities that, because more than 10 percent of the material they take in is not recyclable, need a solid waste permit.

If fines of $5,000 per day continue for four more months while work is ongoing, that’s another $600,000. With upgrades to the main facility costing $5 million, and work needed on the smaller facility estimated at $2 million, plus hauling and others costs, North Bay Corp. owner Jim Ratto could be looking at a total cost of $10 million or more.

Koenigshofer said the company doesn’t know what will come of the referral to the District Attorney, which has yet to review the case. But he said he expects to have a conversation about the appropriateness of increased fines under the circumstances.

“We doing the best we can and $5,000 or $10,000 a day is certainly not going to help us solve the problem,” Koenigshofer said.

“We’re doing everything we can to get it straightened out.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 707-521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @srcitybeat.

http://www.petaluma360.com/news/6429700-181/regulators-turn-up-heat-on