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Tuolumne County has threatened to close a small green-waste composting business near Standard for not paying $3,800 in traffic-impact mitigation fees and allegedly failing to comply with other terms of its land-use agreement.
The owners of Green Works, LLC, at 18629 Eagle Ridge Drive are fighting back and say the county is playing favorites with another business that runs a nearby green-waste facility, Cal Sierra Disposal, a subsidiary of industry giant Waste Management.
“They are trying to pick winners and losers and actively defend Waste Management at all costs,” said Mike Holland, who co-owns Green Works, LLC, with Justin Dambacher, both of Sonora.
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a public hearing for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to consider an appeal by Holland and Dambacher to the recent revocation of their conditional use permit.
Holland alleged that the county is trying to undermine his business because it has taken away customers from Cal Sierra Disposal, which has an agreement with the county that gives it the exclusive right to provide garbage and recycling disposal services in East Sonora, Jamestown, Columbia and Twain Harte.
“We’ve been pushing a rock up a hill since day one,” Holland said. “This is a good, green business that we should be promoting in this county.”
Holland’s business opened in September 2015 following months of working with the county for approval.
The county Community Resources Agency, which is in charge land-use planning, received more than 60 letters from people opposed to approving a conditional use permit for the business, mostly from people in a nearby retirement community who had concerns about noise, water pollution and compost piles spontaneously catching fire.
Part of approval process required Holland and Dambacher to agree to certain conditions the county imposed to mitigate potential impacts identified in a state-required environmental analysis.
One of the conditions required the partners to pay the county a $3,800 fee that would go into the county’s Traffic Impact Mitigation Fund, which is used to pay for future road projects. The county calculates the fee based on a project’s future impact on the road system.
Despite signing the agreement, Holland said they never believed the fee was fair. They argue that their business doesn’t create new traffic, but takes it away from the Cal Sierra Earth Resource Facility located less than half-mile from Green Works.
The Earth Resource Facility at 14909 Camage Avenue charges a $7 disposal fee per cubic yard of green waste, while Holland said his business charges $6. The only other facility that accepts green waste is the David Wise Plainview Slash Site at Plainview Road and Highway 108 in Twain Harte.
“Our argument has been that we’re not creating more green waste in this county, we’re basically taking business from across the street,” Holland said.
Holland pointed to an email he received in July from Quincy Yaley, assistant director of the Community Resources Agency, that stated the number of vehicles going to the Earth Resources Facility plummeted from 12,865 in 2014 to 6,703 in 2016.
Yaley was not available for comment Friday.
According to county documents explaining the reasons for revoking the permit for Green Works, businesses are technically not allowed to operate before paying the traffic fee to the county. Holland said they thought that meant the county agreed with their arguments because they were given the greenlight to open without paying it.
Holland also provided another email from Yaley that stated neither Cal Sierra Disposal nor the operators of the slash site in Twain Harte were required to pay such a fee because the former is located on Tuolumne Utilities District property and the latter on federal land owned by the Bureau of Land Management.
“The county does not collect fees from special districts (Tuolumne County Ordinance Code Section 15.05.050) and does not have authority over land owned by the federal government,” Yaley stated in the email dated Aug. 28.
Beyond the unpaid fee, the county also alleges that Holland and Dambacher have failed to comply with other conditions of their permit.
Other conditions the county accuses the owners of failing to meet, all of which Holland refuted, include submitting an operational plan to the Fire Prevention Division, adhering to the approved site plan, providing certain fire prevention measures, Environmental Health Operating Permit requirements, maintaining appropriate records for Environmental Health, and refraining from doing mechanical grinding on the weekends.
Holland received a notice from the county on July 10 of its intention to revoke his permit if the conditions were not met. The county revoked the permit on Aug. 29 but has allowed the business to continue operating pending Holland’s appeal that was submitted two weeks later.
David Gonzalves, director of the Community Resources Agency, said the purpose of such conditions are intended to protect the public, the environment and promote a level playing field for businesses.
Gonzalves denied that the county was targeting Green Works to benefit Waste Management.
“There’s no basis for that, and that’s not how the county has ever operated or will ever operate under my direction,” Gonzalves said.
Neither Gonzalves nor Yaley worked for the Community Resources Agency when the permit was approved for Green Works in 2015. Gonzalves took the reins of the agency in January, while Yaley wasn’t hired until April.
Gonzalves said the county doesn’t make any profit from its agreement with the Waste Management subsidiary that runs through October 2022.
A copy of the contract approved in 2009 states the company doesn’t pay the county any percentage of gross profits, but will provide up to $82,000 worth of services to the government per year.
The City of Sonora receives 2.06 percent of gross revenue and up to $30,000 a year in services to the city government under its agreement with the company.
“It only pays for the service we provide to the public, period,” Gonzalves said. “The green waste and recycling (services) are programs mandated by the state. The operator we hire, which happens to be Waste Management, has to provide those as part of the contract.”
Holland alleged that he also pays the county $700 to $800 annually to conduct four inspections of his property per year, but those inspections had never occurred until the agency began asking about the unpaid traffic impact mitigation fees.
Gonzalves said he’s made changes to how the Community Resources Agency monitors fees and permit conditions aimed at ensuring they are “met fairly and equitably to the public’s benefit as well as the applicant.”
“What I can say is my staff has been following up on all applications and all inspections that are required as of January,” Gonzalves said.
Gonzalves said actually revoking a permit for an operating business is rare and would be the first under his tenure as the head of the agency. He was not aware of that happening any other times before he arrived.
The board will have the authority on Tuesday to uphold the revocation of the permit, reverse the revocation, or reverse the revocation while adding additional requirements that Dambacher and Holland would have to meet.
If the board votes to revoke the permit, Gonzalves said it can give Holland and Dambacher some time to ramp down operations or order them to cease immediately.
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.