Sonoma County hazardous waste collection site opens Saturday

State environmental officials on Saturday expect a huge influx of toxic household materials damaged or destroyed by flooding last week in the lower Russian River. If toxic waste gets into landfills, it will likely leach into the ground, poisoning the environment.

In a few weeks and for the rest of the spring, summer and fall, Sunset Beach, on the lower Russian River, will be a gathering place for tourists, day trippers and weekenders but right now, it's about to become a temporary toxic drop off site. 

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has set up a collection site where NRC, a highly qualified toxics handler, will deal with what residents bring in. This toxic only collection site won't be open until Saturday. There are many containers already there and they're just the tip of the iceberg of toxics that will be brought here and disposed of in a way that they can't do damage to the environment.

If placed in regular landfills, toxics can leach into the ground, aquifers and human and wildlife habitat. Some can combine to start dangerous chemical reactions and even start fires. But many toxics can be recycled and repurposed. Others must be put into high level non-leakable dump sites.

Meanwhile, debris and toxics that are still sitting in the flood plain will take much longer to round up. Many lower Russian River streets are lined with debris that residents couldn't or wouldn't bring in to six regional drop off disposal sites by Saturday's closing deadline. 

"Monday morning we'll be handling curbside collection throughout the affected areas. We'll be bringing drop boxed, loaders, inspectors and hazardous waste specialists throughout the communities and collecting any debris that's piled street side," said large scale recycler Stemmler of Recology Sonoma Marin.

At the famous Gurneville Lodge, owner Alvin Cooper is glad debris pickups are imminent. "At night, people have been dumping stuff in my pile. This is my parking lot, my handicapped parking lot. I can't open up until things are clean around here and looking like it should," said Cooper. 

Meanwhile, a Guerneville help center, set up at a former Bank of America building to be a one-stop shop for residents looking for relief from the flooding, will close Saturday at 6 p.m. 

All riverside businesses expect to be fully open by the traditional Memorial Day weekend or earlier. "By then, I'm sure all the businesses will be up and running and the silver lining to all of this, one of the silver linings, is that there will be plenty of water all summer," said Burke's Canoe Trips co-owner Ted Schroeder.

But for right now, folks here have all the water they can tolerate. 

Residents can now visit for more information about resources. And those who need post-flood permits can go to the Permit Sonoma office at 2550 Ventura Ave. in Santa Rosa, according to authorities.  

Bay City News contributed to this report