Anyone headed to one of Klickitat County's four brush-chipping sites around the county over the weekend got an unpleasant surprise: the sites have all been closed.
Effective Aug. 31, the county's Solid Waste Department was forced to close the sites after grant funding ran out. Signs alerting the public to the closure were posted on Friday.
The sites take in tree limbs and brush for chipping, with the chips bagged and offered on-site to the public at no cost.
"We support these programs with a Department of Ecology grant," explained Tim Hopkinson, the county's solid waste director. "We ran out of money."
According to Hopkinson, the costs for processing material at the county's four sites -- in Bingen, Dallesport, Lyle, and Goldendale -- has risen because so much material is being chipped.
Hopkinson explained that the amount of tree limbs and brush being processed at the four sites has been rising dramatically. In 1999, for example, 900 tons were processed, while in 2000, 1,400 tons were processed.
The county pays a contractor to chip the vegetation, but the increase in volume naturally leads to higher costs. As a result, the money ran out sooner than expected.
"We've succeeded ourselves out of business," Hopkinson quipped.
However, Hopkinson said the program will start up again on Jan. 1, 2002, when a new grant kicks in.
"Unless we find a new source of income, we'll be shut down between now and then," he pointed out. "I'm scrambling to find other revenue sources."
Hopkinson added that even with the new grant, the county may be in the same situation again in a year or two.
"If costs keep rising, I expect to be in this position again, and the program may go away," he said. "We need a way to fund these sites long term.
The county's Solid Waste Department receives approximately $60,000 a year to handle the vegetation left at the sites. Hopkinson estimates another $30,000 would be needed to get through the end of this year.
Hopkinson noted that it's normal for brush chipping programs to gain in popularity over time as more people become aware of them. Further, he said the drought has had an indirect impact.
"Part of what's driving this is the county-wide burn ban," he explained. "Also, DNR did a lot of public outreach about clearing up brush around homes, to get fuel away from homes (to decrease fire danger). And people are saying, `great, we can drop it off at the brush-chipping sites.' The problem is mostly increased tonnage combined with limited resources."
The glass, paper, and plastic recycling sites around the county are not affected by the brush site closures.