Fire officials expressed their concerns last week about the limited hours at Riverside County’s Grinding Station and policies at the Idyllwild Transfer Station that might discourage abatement.

Officials from CR&R of Stanton, who have assumed the waste management lease for the county’s Area 8, which includes Idyllwild, attended the Dec. 9 Mountain Area Safety Taskforce meeting last week. They described their initial plans and listened to the questions and concerns posed by Idyllwild Fire Chief Patrick Reitz and Edwina Scott, executive director of the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council.

One problem, which both Reitz and Scott shared, was the fee for disposing wood waste at the transfer station. Both of them described that one consequence was that the waste was being left in the forest or other places to avoid the fee, and yet remaining a fire hazard.

“[Waste Management Inc.] said no woody waste, which made it inconvenient to abate property,” Reitz said.

Alex Braicovich, senior regional vice president for CR&R, explained that the original intention of the transfer station was to accept normal household waste. Construction materials and woody debris create additional and different problems for disposal, which is why Waste Management Inc. had imposed the $60 fee per load earlier this year.

“Yes, but what you call C&D [construction and debris] I call flammable fuels,” Scott replied. “We have a group [the Woodies] who volunteer to remove this material for the disabled and elderly. They can’t pay $60 per trip.”

Braicovich said CR&R’s current policy is to accept green waste, needles and leaves, and wood up to 4 inches in diameter and 4 to 6 feet in length, capable of fitting into a normal pick-up truck.

In addition, he said CR&R had reduced the fee to $45 and eliminated the $25 e-waste fee and would discuss future changes in policy with Reitz and Cal Fire as the spring inspection and abatement periods approach.

“We’ll sit down and exam the policy with you,” Baricovich promised. And the MAST leaders confirmed that the subcommittee established at the September meeting would represent the whole group.

Hans Kernkamp, general manager and chief engineer of the county’s Waste Resources Department, added that the grinding facility would be open on Fridays rather than Saturdays if the tonnage continues at the current level. It had dropped substantially this fall, which is why the number of days was reduced. He added that the county had purchased its own grinder for the facility.

Inspections of unimproved properties in Pine Cove will begin this spring, according to Riverside County Fire Department Division Chief Bill Weiser. “We’ll enforce county Ordinance 695 [requiring the abatement of hazardous vegetation] especially section 3(a) 1 and 2,” he announced.

This will require property owners to abate hazardous vegetation within 100 feet of the property line and around structures. If the owner fails to abate, the county will provide notice and may contract for the abatement work.

“We haven’t done this at this elevation before,” he said. “Some people may not be happy, but the process is defined in the ordinance. It’s important for the community to start to clean these unimproved parcels with too much fuel.”

In other project news, Chris Fogle, battalion chief on the San Jacinto Ranger District, said the U.S. Forest Service burn plans have been signed. It will conduct burns this winter, if weather permits, near Thomas Mountain and the Strawberry Fuelbreak. There also will be mechanical fuel reduction in these areas, according to Kayanna Warren, district forester.

Dave Simmons, manager of Southern California Edison’s bark-beetle project, said SCE has been removing many dead and dying pines due to the bark-beetle resurgence. During 2015, nearly 2,400 trees have been removed along Edison’s power lines in Southern California and more than half were on the Hill, Simmons said. Edison is using four crews and now takes about four to five weeks from identifying a tree for removal until it is down.

Because of the damage from the drought, the project is expanding statewide, he said. This week, he was meeting with the governor’s task force to describe the Edison project, which was initiated more than a decade ago.