There was a great big elephant sitting in the Columbia County Commission chambers last week.
You won't see it on the meeting's video recording, set up for the first time last Tuesday to preserve the full glory of the board's sessions. But if you listened closely, you might have heard it mentioned in passing.
The figurative elephant in the room is the unfortunate lack of foresight that resulted in last year's closing of the county's landfill.
Here's where you might have heard it mentioned. During a presentation on options for starting some type of county recycling program, Columbia County's construction and maintenance director, Miguel Valentin, pointed out that one of the benefits of instituting a recycling program is increased life for a landfill.
Whoops. Too late.
For years, county residents sporadically have called for the county to take a stronger role in initiating some type of recycling program. Valentin's presentation shows that with a program in place, the county could reduce the amount of waste headed for the landfill by as much as 200 tons a month.
That enormous figure could come only with the highest level of government intervention, which commissioners aren't likely to approve. (Chairman Ron Cross asked Valentin, tongue in cheek, "Would you like them to lynch us all at one time, or separately?") But even less-intensive programs still could cut the waste stream by as much as 20 tons.
What are the benefits? Other than producing good vibes about the environment - which is a pretty good idea all by itself - not much.
Just setting up a system of additional drop-off points for common recyclable materials would create a net cost to taxpayers; Valentin acknowledges that only if the county were to establish mandatory curbside recycling and garbage-sorting would there be enough waste recycled for the program to have even a remote chance of paying for itself.
The real benefit from a recycling program would have been in a reduction in waste dumped at the landfill, resulting in a longer time in which the landfill could have stayed open. Instead, the county is now paying a consultant to help come up with creative ideas for how the now-closed site can be used.
Among the options are a recycling center. Its symbol should be an elephant - a white one.
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