County Commissioner Mike Hayward calls the Wallowa city transfer station and how it is operated by caretaker Donna Nelson a "Good Will Store."
He says the people of Wallowa obviously enjoy how she runs the dump, by taking items aside which residents can claim for their own without charge, yet he has concerns about how her efforts are being perceived by the Department of Environmental Quality.
Hayward says that the Wallowa dump has been written up on two occasions by the DEQ and that Wallowa County Public Works Director Russ McMartin is trying to encourage Nelson to clean up the site. He is doing more that encouraging compliance, he is threatening Nelson with the loss of her job.
In a July 7 letter from McMartin to Nelson, the public works director stated that if she accepted one additional car to the facility that her position would be terminated. He said that 3/4 of the materials around the trailer and building would need to be removed by Sept. 1. In the letter McMartin said, "The Wallowa Transfer Site is unsightly and needs to be cleaned up."
Nelson, a five year part time employee of the transfer station which is only open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, disagrees. She claims that her efforts are recycling a significant percentage of what would otherwise go into the county's landfill. She claims that a full 1/3 of items targeted for the landfill are held back and claimed by the public. That is considered to be recycling above and beyond the cardboard, newspaper, glass, tin and metals which are already being placed in dumpsters and hauled to the county's recycling center on Fish Hatchery Lane in Enterprise. Nelson and volunteer helper Betty Ann Goebel claim to recycle windows and doors, clothes, building supplies, couches and chairs.
It is the storage of those items which DEQ objects to.
Hayward says that Nelson "works pretty hard at keeping things neat and organized." He suggests the possibility that a grant could be found to build a small building to keep the windows, doors and other items out of sight.
Nelson has a following among Wallowa residents who haul their own debris to the dump. Many are repeat customers who routinely peruse items Nelson has determined to be salvageable. In fact she has hand written letters of support from over 30 Wallowa residents asking that the "Good Will Store" be kept open.
Hayward hopes to find a middle ground between the wants of the people of Wallowa and the DEQ.
He knows that the next warning from the state agency will include a monetary fine, but has no idea what the amount of the fine would be. "This is a different situation than the DEQ is used to dealing with," he said.
Nelson argues that she transferred 5 1/2 ton of garbage to the Ant Flat landfill out of Enterprise last week and will top this figure this week. She contends that by taking out items for citizen recycling she is doing everybody a favor.
Among her supporters in Wallowa is resident Susan Sprague, who said, "If people want to save the transfer site (as it is) .... they need to get to work on it now."