Peñasco: Trash and anger pile up | Local News
Taos County residents who live near Chamisal Solid Waste Transfer Station have more than just piled up their trash – they have anger and complaint too.
In the past 12 months, access to the transfer station has been restricted and residents of Peñasco and the surrounding villages find the gates closed without warning.
“I’ll save it,” said Jacob Pacheco, who lives in Las Trampas. “I’m lucky to have a truck that is only dedicated to garbage. If I go to the dump and find it closed, I just leave it in the truck.”
Pacheco, 45, is the director of financial aid at Northern New Mexico College.
“I realize that not everyone has a vehicle that holds rubbish,” said Pacheco. “It takes a lot of work to fill your truck with rubbish that has been accumulating for two weeks or more. It’s really daunting to get to the dump and see the gate closed.”
The Puro Peñasco Facebook group has been lit in recent months by local residents expressing their frustrations over the train station’s closure.
“My husband has tried twice in the past two weeks when it should have been open. We pay for the service. This system needs to be fixed by the county if we are to keep our city clean,” wrote Kaori Lopez.
“People are starting to throw their rubbish in the mountains and on the roadside. It’s getting ridiculous,” wrote Yvette Pacheco, Jacob’s wife.
Many of the comments were directed to Candyce O’Donnell, the Taos County Commissioner for District 5. O’Donnell participated in the online discussion and used the forum to handle complaints.
“I am sorry that the driver shortage has caused inconvenience and frustration. Two employees are currently removing the full trash cans from eight transfer stations, including Chamisal,” wrote O’Donnell.
Around the first part of the year Taos County Solid Waste lost two of its drivers – one fell ill and one retired. Hiring new drivers to move the waste from the transfer station to the Taos municipal landfill would likely help. But the county was unlucky to find applicants.
“You must have a commercial driver’s license. You must pass a drug test,” said O’Donnell. “And they have to get the hepatitis C vaccine because they could stick a needle. It’s a dangerous job.”
The drivers are hired from Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. for 40 hours a week. Taos County recently increased the hourly wage rate from $ 13.55 to $ 14.64 and a new driver was hired on Monday (Jan. 11).
The county also signed a short-term contract with Waste Management, a private waste disposal company. On Tuesday (January 12th) the transport of rubbish bins from the transfer station started.
Taos County Solid Waste customers pay $ 120 per year for membership, payable in four installments. Each installment entitles customers to 12 visits to the transfer station over a period of three months. Each visit is recorded with a card stamp by the manager of the transfer station.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the reuse center at the Chamisal station was closed. Many of the items that are normally recycled by the center – clothes, toys – are thrown in the trash instead.
“I don’t know where they get so much rubbish from, but every single truck is gill loaded – and with trailers and everything,” said Edward Martínez, Taos County Solid Waste Director.
“People think that they are the only handover point, that they are not getting the service. I have eight handover points across the county and two pueblos,” he said.
Martínez has had to work as a driver in addition to his usual duties for the past few weeks. Since he is understaffed, he had to work six days a week. Sometimes, he said, that means choosing which stations to open and which to close because the bins are full.
Pacheco said the transfer station closings have been going on for almost a year, and not just in recent weeks.
“Saturdays are very, very busy because a lot of the people who normally work take their trash to the dump,” he said. “And on certain days the trash cans get full sometimes.”
Pacheco enjoys hiking with his dog in the mountains around Chamisal and said he had noticed an increase in illegal dumping in the immediate vicinity of the transfer station.
“People are unloading truckloads of rubbish. I just can’t see how anyone can do this, but it will be done,” Pacheco said. “I think what happened is that some people just have one vehicle and they fill that truck with trash and then find that the dump is closed. And they need this truck to work.”
“They know it’s a terrible thing, but they throw the garbage in the mountains,” said Pacheco.
The 50-year-old Juliet Garcia-Gonzales, whose family has lived in Chamisal for 12 generations, also saw the garbage. “If you go to an arroyo or somewhere in the mountains where you think someone won’t see you,” she said. “Then just throw them off very quickly.”
“I called to report it,” she said. “You call the forest service and then you have to go in and check something. You could send someone out. Maybe not. But there is no penalty.”
Garcia-Gonzales wrote about the dumping in the Puro Peñasco group forum, writing that the lack of services was not limited to just closing transfer stations, but other services – like EMT.
“You better not have a heart attack waiting for that Taos ambulance,” she said. “It’s just a lack of service, all around the system. I mean, are we just kind of left out?”