Dumpster debate cools for now

Council approves hospital trash location on temporary basis

TONASKET – Tensions didn’t boil over, but they certainly were simmering as the Tonasket City Council and two representatives of the North Valley Hospital District engaged in some verbal sparring over the placement of garbage dumpsters that had taken up residence along the curb on Western Avenue.

Tonasket Mayor Patrick Plumb, a hospital employee, recused himself as mayor for the discussion, handing the gavel to Mayor Pro Tem Jill Vugteveen, but was permitted to participate.

After a lengthy back and forth the council approved a motion to allow the hospital to keep the dumpsters in a pair of parking spaces near the North Valley Extended Care while researching how to properly charge the hospital for a franchise agreement for semi-permanent use of city property. It also requires the hospital to present a permanent plan for the location of its dumpsters within a year (though the plan may not be able to be executed at that time).

From the council’s perspective, the issue of dumpsters blocking the right of way on either the sidewalk west of the hospital or taking up space on the side of the road has been problematic for some time.

Director of Ancillary Services Noreen Olma and Plant Engineer John Sanchez echoed what CIO Kelly Cariker said at a recent hospital board meeting, that the issue was a new one to them. A number of hospital administrative staff, including Cariker and Sanchez, have been with NVH for less than two years.

The two largest of three dumpsters have been moved to two parking spaces on First Street in front of North Valley Extended Care, which met with the council’s approval albeit on a temporary basis.

“There was some mention that we should have planned better,” Sanchez said. “Most of us in the game now haven’t been here (since the new hospital building was planned). Originally with the first bond issue the dumpsters were supposed to be in the parking area by the Eagles. That fell through, and we’re out of land.

“Now we have a quandary. Beyers Market has a franchise (to pay the city for the use of public space for a dumpster)… We’d like to move them back (to Western) if possible.”

Olma said that the location by the nursing home was not central for the majority of staff on campus.

Council member Dennis Brown, who had visited with Cariker and toured the facility had his own recommendation for alternate homes for the dumpsters, but Sanchez said the garbage company had rejected Brown’s suggestion due to its proximity to the building.

“We ran a survey through with two different trucks and they said, no, we’re not taking the liability,” Sanchez said. “We started looking at other options. We don’t have a lot.”

Brown said part of his concern was for public safety.

“You want to put them out where they can cause a safety hazard, and there have been people who have come close to running into them because they slip out into the street,” Brown said, adding that the previous Friday a driver actually had hit one of the dumpsters. “You have a dumpster sitting on the sidewalk, which is unsecured. It’s not on the rules that go with our ordinances. And we don’t know what’s going into those. It could be hazardous materials, it could be a lot of things.”

Olma addressed Brown’s concern about the contents of the trash.

“Medical waste is red bagged and picked up by Steri-cycle,” she said. “There is no biohazard that goes into the regular trash. Our confidential information, our patient information … goes into a shred bin. A contractor from Spokane comes in once a month and shreds it.

“The only waste going into the dumpster on the street is basic garbage, like household garbage.”

“I appreciate you’re new to this,” said Council Member Scott Olson, noting that Sanchez had only been on NVH staff since February. “But this has been an ongoing issue, one to two years… From our perspective it has been a long time … dealing with parking spaces, it’s been since before the remodel.

“When we talk about loss of city parking, it’s a hard issue for us to deal with. You’re dealing with raw nerves. We are all members of the hospital district as well. We want it to be successful. But as we sit in these chairs we have to be protective of the city’s sidewalks and parking spaces.”

“We have had a hard time because we haven’t gotten much response. We have had to get to the point of getting threatening to get someone to talk with us about this.”

Vugteveen, who brought up the issue of dumpsters on the sidewalks on more than one occasion over the past couple of years, expressed her frustration as well.

“As Scott alluded to, there are raw nerves because no one has come to us and asked permission,” she said. “They’ve just taken it upon themselves to use the sidewalks. The ordinance states we must provide a five foot right of way for pedestrians. That was being impeded a lot just by the dumpsters just being placed wherever, even if it was by the garbage company.

“But we have made a couple different requests to remove them from the sidewalks, with no results. We’ve also dealt with issues in the city with residents and the cleanliness of their property. It would be tough for us to approve allowing dumpsters in a high visibility corridor when we expect people to keep their yards fairly clean and picked up.”

Vugteveen said that finding a solution to the hospital’s lack of space wasn’t the city’s responsibility.

“There clearly wasn’t good enough planning,” she said. “We gave franchise for the MRI trailer because in the original plans you guys forgot to include that. The fear in the council is what’s next. Why should we continue to have to give up more space because of someone’s lack of planning years ago?”

“I will work with in the parameters, but I didn’t know about this until a month ago.” Sanchez said. “We’re searching for places to put these things and also meeting Department of Health regulations we have to go through… I am more than willing to work with you all, but I’m kind of stuck with the area I have to work with.”

“I don’t envy you,” Vugteveen said. “You have inherited quite a mess.”

Plumb clarified that the nursing home parking spaces partially encroached on city right-of-way and should be subject to a franchise agreement, as well as space taken up by the MRI trailer on Western. The council directed City Manager Hugh Jensen to measure the affected spaces before the next council meeting to help determine what to charge.

Olson said he approved the hospital’s solution as a temporary move and said it would be acceptable to him if the hospital presented a long-term plan within a couple of years that included a permanent solution.

“If they come up with a solution in a year, I can go for that,” Brown said. “But it has to be different than what it is.”