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Waste not, want not: A community comes together to dispose of 3,373 tons of green waste

By Laura Petersen | Special to The Union

A steady stream of pickup trucks loaded with broken tree branches, cut logs, brush trimmings and other forest debris arrived in record numbers at a free green waste disposal site in Grass Valley in March and April.

Residents disposed of 7,575 carloads of green waste at the spring events on Brunswick Road organized by Nevada County over the course of three extended weekends. That’s a total of 3,373 tons of green waste, or the equivalent of 450 school buses as a comparison by weight. The material will be chipped and hauled to a biomass plant in Lincoln and used to generate power.

“It’s fabulous. I’d love to see this more often,” said Michael Stanley, a local contractor, who was all smiles as he waited his turn to get checked in at the disposal site. “The operation is going exceptionally well and I’m super impressed. This facility is a great model.”



Community participation in Nevada County’s Free Green Waste Disposal events is especially critical this year after record-breaking winter storms left behind a wasteland of hazardous vegetation.

Community participation in Nevada County’s Free Green Waste Disposal events, like the ones held in March and April, is especially critical this year after record-breaking winter storms left behind a wasteland of hazardous vegetation.
Submitted to The Union

Downed trees knocked over powerlines, crashed through roofs and blocked roadways. Thousands of residents were without power, water, communications, food, medicine and fuel for many days — even weeks.



Craig Griesbach, project manager for the Green Waste Program, has worked at the county for eight years and has never seen storm damage on the scale experienced last December when 33,000 PG&E customers lost power.

Dry fuels within the Wildland Urban Interface — areas where human neighborhoods meet natural environments — are at a greater risk of catastrophic wildfire. Now there is more dry vegetation to burn.

“This increases the rate of spread of fire, increases ladder fuels, clogs our ingress and egress route, and overall makes it more challenging to manage wildfires. This also increases negative impacts to our climate with the increase and presence of smoke,” said Griesbach.

Destruction was widespread, with a footprint of 37,000 acres. A full spectrum of parcels — from agriculture, residences, businesses and recreation — reported damage or power outages. Excluding highways, 900 miles of county-maintained and private roads were impacted by downed trees and powerlines.

“Green waste is already a challenge in any rural community, so the storm only exacerbated the issue. The county and the community overall will continue to clean up green waste for many months ahead,” said Griesbach.

County Public Works crews cleared 600 tons of excess fuels from over 200 miles of county-maintained roads, yet a mountain of storm debris remains as wildfire season begins.

“There will likely be hundreds if not thousands of downed trees that will still be on the ground this fire season,” said Steve Monaghan, director of Emergency Services for the county.

“We know that downed fuels from the winter storm, if not removed, could add more fuel to a summer fire. We are encouraging residents to work with their neighbors to reduce the fuel loads on their property ahead of this year’s fire season,” said Monaghan.

‘WE COULD DO THIS EVERY WEEKEND’

In recent years, wildfire preparedness has become more of a year-round rather than a seasonal effort, said Jamie Jones, executive director of the Fire Safe Council of Nevada County.

Green waste disposal is being eyed as the best option for creating Firewise communities. On-site chipping leaves behind flammable wood chips on the ground. While better than ladder fuels, it’s less than ideal. Open pile burning impacts air quality and escaped fires are a growing concern for neighborhoods.

Residents disposed of 7,575 carloads of green waste at the spring events on Brunswick Road organized by Nevada County over the course of three extended weekends. That’s a total of 3,373 tons of green waste, or the equivalent of 450 school buses as a comparison by weight. The material will be chipped and hauled to a biomass plant in Lincoln and used to generate power.
Submitted to The Union

Each year, the amount of green waste collected triples from the year before. With expensive fees averaging $100 to take a load of green waste to the dump and tonnage restrictions limiting capacity, free and affordable green waste disposal and chipping services are needed to create fire safe neighborhoods. Yet many of these programs are funded by grants and are not a long-term fix.

“We absolutely need a sustainable funding mechanism to bring in green waste year-round. We could do this every weekend,” said Jones, who has submitted eight grants in the last four months in an effort to fund critical wildfire preparedness funding.

The Fire Safe Council contracts with the county to manage the Spring Green Waste site. Robinsons Enterprises is contracted to haul the green waste to a biomass co-generation facility in Lincoln, but the plant is in high demand and not always available. Last year, the closest available facility was four hours away and transportation and fuel costs can be prohibitive. A biomass task force has been looking into the feasibility of a local biomass plant for a decade, but rural zoning and other obstacles can be tricky.

Nevada County is currently looking at several long-term solutions that could include year-round residential green waste disposal and a local biomass facility serving both the east and west sides of the county. Securing a permanent location and sustainable funding are the challenges ahead.

Costs as high as $1.5 million annually are estimated for year-round green waste disposal in western Nevada County alone. The former mine site in Grass Valley where recent green waste events were held is not a viable long-term location, said Monaghan. Limiting processing to four three-day weekend operations in February through June could cut costs in half, but would still be a significant hurdle.

Costs as high as $1.5 million annually are estimated for year-round green waste disposal in western Nevada County alone. Limiting processing to four three-day weekend operations in February through June could cut costs in half, but would still be a significant hurdle.
Submitted to The Union

If the county had the funding, it could launch a year-round program beginning next season. But for now, its hands are tied.

“County strategies to promote residential homeowner responsibility for 100 feet of defensible space and private road roadside hazardous vegetation removal all require affordable, if not free, green waste disposal options. We cannot aggressively promote and require these activities without offering viable incentives and adequate solutions to residents. As such, we will have limited success on these fronts if we don’t solve this problem,” said Monaghan.

BIOMASS A SOLUTION?

Biomass co-generation uses waste wood and horticultural materials as fuel to generate electricity or heat. A local plant could be a viable solution.

“The community really needs to support something like that — ultimately that’s what’s going to make us fire safe,” said Jamie Jones. “Having one right in our community would be the ultimate answer.”

Regionally, a number of biomass studies are underway. For years, the feasibility of a 3-megawatt biomass plant in Camptonville has been in the works. In the Truckee area, three biomass plants are currently being studied at the Eastern Regional Landfill at Cabin Creek, Northstar Community Services District and Truckee Airport. North of Truckee, 37 miles away in Sierra County, a shuttered biomass plant in Loyalton could reopen.

In September, Truckee voters passed Measure T, a special tax that will be applied beginning this year to fund new wildfire prevention and protection efforts. The tax is projected to create an annual $3.7 million Community Wildfire Prevention Fund, including a biomass scoping study with the town of Truckee and Truckee Tahoe Airport District.

One challenge is the lack of infrastructure in place to get the woody biomass material or “feedstock” out of the woods to the facilities, said Supervisor Hardy Bullock, who is part of a Truckee Tahoe Biomass Coalition. He believes the government plays a role in the solution and Nevada County could become a model for other rural communities.

“I really think we have to be bold,” Bullock said. “It’s incumbent on all of us to work this in. Paying to dispose of green waste is not sustainable. A (biomass facility) would be an investment worth making.”

Laura Petersen is a freelance writer who has spent two decades chronicling the stories of people and places in Northern California. This is the first in a series of articles on behalf of Nevada County examining emergency preparedness. Laura can be reached at laurapetersenmedia@gmail.com

GET INVOLVED

Stay Informed and Be Prepared

Visit the county’s Office of Emergency Services website for the latest news, alerts and information to prepare for wildfire: http://www.nevadacountyca.gov/3453/Ready-Nevada-County

Take a Survey

Nevada County wants to hear from the public about the coming wildfire season. Visit readynevadacounty.org/future to take a quick survey, “Preparing for the Future,” to share thoughts and priorities and subscribe for updates.

Green Waste Days: Monday and May 16

Waste Management of Nevada County will host two free Green Waste Days 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday and May 16 at the McCourtney Road Transfer Station, 14741 Wolf Mountain Road, Grass Valley, for landscape trimmings. Anything over 4-feet long or 18-inches wide, dirt, rock, sand, palm leaves, root balls, blackberry, poison oak and Scotch broom will not be accepted. Questions? Contact 530-274-3090 or visit nevadacounty.wm.com.

 

 

 


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