Seven years after Taos County accepted the donation of five acres to build a state-of-the-art recycling center, that parcel is still an empty piece of sagebrush.
In September 2008, the town of Taos donated the property to Taos County so the county could use the land to build a recycling/solid waste facility. But that idea never panned out.
A clause in the deed required that the property revert to the town if it wasn’t used as a recycling center. The town and county governments approved the transfer of land back to the town this week.
In 2009, the county received in a $500,000 loan from the New Mexico Department of Finance Administration for engineering and to start construction of the facility. But after doing an initial study in 2010, county officials said the project wasn’t feasible. Taos County finance director Leandro Cordova, who was recently picked to take over as county manager next month, said the county used $50,000 from that loan before backing off.
“We spent enough money to tell us we couldn’t afford it,” Cordova said.
At a county meeting in 2010, then-county manager Adam Baker said engineers estimated it would cost $1.2 million to build a facility. Baker suggested the county use the remainder of the grant, and apply for another $500,000 block grant, to build the structure.
But the idea was shot down by commissioners at the time, who said it would cost too much to staff and maintain the facility (the commission instead used the $500,000 block grant to redo three roads in Peñasco that year).
“We just couldn’t make it work,” said Taos Mayor Dan Barrone, who was a county commission at the time.
There has also been talk of trash-hauling company Waste Management building a facility on the property and running the program, which could include curbside recycling. When asked about those plans in 2013, the company said it was “too early to tell” if such a facility would be built. There has been no tangible progress since.
Barrone said, as it stands, recycling is a “break-even” venture at best right now. The town owns and operates the only recycling center in the county at the moment.
In 2012, the town generated about $115,000 selling recyclable materials. It also saved about $35,600 by diverting 1,250 tons from the landfill (the town has to pay for every pound it dumps at the landfill).
For years, Taos County has struggled to improve on its recycling rate — the percentage of recyclable material that is diverted from the landfill.
According to state data from 2013, Taos County had a recycling rate of 5.5 percent. It ranked 22nd of the 31 counties that reported solid waste/recycling numbers that year.