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County tackles waste problem on Schweitzer Mountain

by ANNISA KEITH
Staff Writer | March 30, 2022 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — Dozens of people flooded the third floor conference room in the Bonner County Administration Building on Tuesday afternoon to oppose possible closure of the only solid waste collection site on Schweitzer Mountain.

In another standing-room-only meeting with county commissioners, many who live in the ski resort’s village commuted into town to oppose the Solid Waste Advisory Committee’s March 14 recommendation to close the site.

Solid waste is a catch-all term for discarded items. This includes refuse from all industries including household waste, construction debris, and business refuse.

Bob Howard, director of solid waste, outlined for the audience that the site is experiencing an abundance of misuse that creates additional problems such as littering and bears.

“Some of the issues that we have up there are illegal dumping, and litter,” Howard said. “We have some bear problems.”

Howard explained that unaccepted materials such as mattresses, construction debris, and hazardous waste, are being dumped at the site when they are not supposed to be.

The unmanned, unfenced site is intended for household trash only and holds 10 to 13 dumpsters. Howard showed a series of photos in his presentation that elicited such a visceral response from the audience, that Commissioner Chairman Dan McDonald had to call the meeting to order by threatening to “toss people out” of the meeting.

”This is a big problem and it affects everybody in the county,” McDonald said. “It’d be great if humans could follow the rules, not trash their own backyard, do the right thing, but we’ve found that’s not always the case with some of us.”

The purpose of Tuesday’s workshop was to collect input from the community about potential solutions to the problem, and many turned out to contribute their ideas.

Public comment was opened eight minutes into the meeting with 12 people choosing to speak in opposition to the potential closure.

“I can tell you from personal experience that these overloads that you see the pictures of are not a common event,” said Thomas Smith, a resident. “They do occur during the Christmas week and holiday weekends, but that represents another issue, Schweitzer is growing. … I think we need to open up the book a little and think outside the box and find a way to solve this. To shut it down is totally counterproductive. You’re going to be shooting yourself in the foot.”

Solutions brought by the public included adding fencing and supervision to the site. Outside of those recommendations, others suggested signage about how to properly use the bins, adding smaller collection receptacles at area housing complexes, placing cameras at the collection site to pursue those who illegally dump, or simply scaring people away — a practice many credited to the current fire chief on the mountain.

Schweitzer Mountain Fire Protection District Chief Spencer Newton was mentioned by many during the workshop regarding his aggressive attitude toward those who misuse the site. Newton’s work office overlooks the site and, as a result, he frequently observes individuals misusing the site.

“There’s people who don’t respect the Dumpsters, and when you call them out, respectfully at first, some people don’t like being confronted,” Newton said. “Some people have to hold other people accountable, and I’m the only one down here doing it, so I’m bound to get some pushback.”

The next steps for the Solid Waste department include assembling a committee tasked with coming up with a workable solution to the problem.

A second workshop will be held before any proposed solution will go before county commissioners.

“This is a good example of how the community comes together to fix something, instead of just whining and complaining,” Commissioner Steven Bradshaw said after the meeting.

Those interested in providing ideas or potential solutions to the Solid Waste department can do so by contacting them directly at 208-255-5681, ext. 2. The Board of Bonner County Commissioners office can be reached at 208-265-1438. Further contact information for local officials can be found on the county’s website at BonnerCountyID.gov.

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Photo Courtesy - BONNER COUNTY

This photo was displayed during the March 29 solid waste workshop to a packed audience. Plenty of voices spoke up protesting the image, stating that it was not a true depiction of the typical state of the transfer site. This photo was taken on Nov. 22 2020, the week before Thanksgiving.

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Photo Courtesy - BONNER COUNTY

The Schweitzer Mountain transfer site is home to 10- to 13 collection bins. The site has experienced an abundance of misuse by those who use the site for waste that is not intended to be disposed of at the site, which is only meant for household waste.