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Mountains of garbage force Snohomish County to temporarily close 3 transfer stations

County officials say labor and supply chain issues are creating dangerous conditions.

EVERETT, Wash. — Steaming, rotting mounds of garbage, one of them at least 45-feet high, fill the Everett transfer station.

The situation is so bad even 30-year solid waste veteran Dave Schonhard said he's never seen anything like it.

"I want it gone," he said.

But the garbage keeps coming.

The facility near Paine Field processes half of the garbage in Snohomish County. One massive pile has been building since the first of the year. It currently contains nearly 7.4 million pounds of trash.

The much smaller transfer station in Mountlake Terrace is bursting with another 3.5-million pounds.

Snohomish County officials blame supply chain issues.

Continued backups at ports across the West Coast are causing a shortage of shipping containers to haul garbage from transfer stations.

On top of that, there is a worker shortage at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad -- slowing down the transport of those containers to landfills.

A total of nearly 11 million extra pounds of trash is piling up in the county.

Snohomish County Public Works Director Kelly Snyder said temperatures deep inside the piles are hitting 130 degrees, posing a serious safety threat.

"It's getting compacted. It's getting heated up. That will lead us to have some fire issues," she said. "We have to make sure we get this trash out and to the landfill as quickly as we can."

Snyder added the Everett facility is on a 24-hour fire watch, as steam can be seen wafting from the top of the pile.

The situation is also taking a toll on customers. What used to be a 10-minute wait to dump your junk can now take an hour. It's forcing the county to completely close all three of its transfer stations for two full weekends beginning May 7 so workers can try to catch up. 

Regular hours will continue on weekdays.

Three dropbox facilities in Snohomish, Granite Falls, and Sultan will be closed for the next two weekends as well.

The plan is to move workers from the Arlington station to Everett and Mountlake Terrace to work on the backlogs.

Snohomish County recently authorized $2 million in emergency funds for extra help moving the trash.

"We really do have a fairly good rate structure, right now," said Solid Waste Director Dave Schonhard. "We hope that we can weather this crisis without having to ask for additional funds from the county council."

Snohomish County officials hope the emergency move will get them back to baseline in two weeks but they say problems persist in the supply chain and they can't rule out another shutdown.

And as the weather warms, officials worry that time is running out for them to dig themselves out of this mess.

"It's busy for us now but summertime is an incredibly busy time so we want to have some more permanent solutions in place as quickly as possible," Snyder said.

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