Confusion still exists as residents sort it out
Lately, people have been showing up at the Twisp transfer station with small baggies full of apple cores and potato peels. Overall, most Methow Valley residents have been diligently trying to meet new restrictions on garbage to control the spread of the apple maggot, a destructive insect that could threaten the state’s multi-billion-dollar apple industry.
Still, one month into the apple-maggot quarantine in the Methow Valley, confusion persists. New rules require people to separate all fresh fruit, homegrown vegetables and yard waste from the rest of their trash.
There have been some hiccups. The new green-waste bin at the Twisp transfer station is about half-full, primarily with grass clippings and leaves. But prohibited items — including plastic bags and a pair of sneakers — also ended up in the bin.
It wasn’t clear if Okanogan County Solid Waste staff were aware of the non-green trash. But transfer station attendant Jay Duran said people often find long-lost toys and sneakers when raking up leaves.
Some people find the restrictions bewildering. Not only do apples, pears and cherries — which can all serve as hosts for the apple maggot — have to be separated, but so do bananas, pineapples and other fruits that clearly weren’t grown in the Methow.
And although all commercial fruits — including apples — are certified pest-free, the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and the county don’t want them in with garbage either, because there’s no way to distinguish them from home-grown fruit.
In addition to fresh fruit, all home-grown raw vegetables need to be segregated, but commercial veggies can go in the trash. The biggest risk posed by vegetables is that they could carry traces of soil, where the apple-maggot pupae spend the winter before hatching in the spring as flies.
The quarantine covers only the Methow Valley, from Gold Creek north, not the rest of the county. As a result, green waste cannot be transferred to the central landfill in Okanogan and people cannot transport home-grown apples to Pateros or Omak. Cooked and processed fruit is OK.
WSDA imposed the quarantine Nov. 9 after finding apple-maggot flies and larvae in the Methow Valley over the past year, indicating that the pest is established and reproducing here.
The quarantine has created logistical challenges for businesses. WasteWise Methow can no longer pick up any green waste — fruit, raw vegetables, or weeds and branches. Because the company has one route that collects garbage from the pest-free zone south of Gold Creek, they’ve had to add an extra round-trip, said Casey Bouchard, WasteWise’s general manager.
Postcards from WSDA explaining the quarantine didn’t go out until after the quarantine had started, and Bouchard is still fielding lots of questions. “We’re trying to interpret this to the letter of the rule. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of options,” he said.
Bouchard said he’d been pleasantly surprised by the efforts of his customers to comply. “People seem pretty willing to adapt,” he said.
Stores and restaurants are also adjusting. When the quarantine went into effect, the Methow Valley Thriftway in Winthrop got a call from a local farmer eager to take any produce past its prime, said store manager Trevor Ahrens.
Hank Konrad, owner of Hank’s Harvest Foods in Twisp, said the store is handling spoiled produce “in accordance with what they told us to do,” but wouldn’t provide details. While it adds a layer of difficulty, Konrad said he understands the importance of protecting the apple industry.
The quarantine prompted the Mazama Store to set up its own composting system. Before the quarantine, the store set aside compost for a few customers who wanted it for their gardens or livestock, but a good portion went into the trash, said produce manager Madelyn Hamilton. Now the store is collecting all food scraps in the bakery, deli and kitchen and composting them. They plan to use the compost in landscaping around the store.
It may not be practical for people who live in an apartment to compost. But there haven’t been any issues at the Riverview and Cedarwood apartments in Twisp and Winthrop, said site manager Karie Elsasser. The apartments have garbage disposals and most tenants eat commercial fruits and vegetables, she said.
It’s helpful that the ban went into effect in November, when fewer people are doing yard work, said Kent Kovalenko, Okanogan County’s solid waste manager, last week. “Not too many people are mowing their lawns or working in flowerbeds. People will understand the rules by spring, and it should be more common sense,” he said.
At the transfer station, “nobody’s gotten too annoyed,” said Duran, who’s been answering lots of questions. Since there’s a minimum charge of $11.40, there’s no way to charge less for people who bring just a small bag of fruit scraps, he said.
The new bin for green waste — there will ultimately be a second one to separate woody debris from fruit, grass and soil — doesn’t have a hydraulic lift, so people can’t simply unload a dump truck. Instead, they have to unload everything by hand, said Duran.
Bags of raked leaves and grass clippings also have to be emptied, because the green-waste bins can’t contain paper or plastic. The county hopes to heat-treat the green waste to kill the maggot..
While Duran asks everyone if they’re dumping paint, tires or green waste, it’s basically the honor system. “We’re not going to climb in and fetch things,” he said. A second employee at the transfer station will help monitor the bins.
WSDA has updated its website with a page devoted to the quarantine in Okanogan County. The information is available at agr.wa.gov under “Plants/Insects” in the list on the left, then “Apple Maggot” (under “Insect Pests”). The link in the yellow bar at the top takes you to information for Okanogan County.