Madison County Solid Waste Board tours container sites

County sanitarian Ralph Hamler (left) demonstrates a hydraulic trash compactor for members of the solid waste board at the Ennis disposal site. Photo by Ben Coulter

NORRIS – “Just because it’s a dump site doesn’t mean it has to look like one,” said Ralph Hamler as he picks scraps of windblown paper stuck in the fence line at the disposal sight in Norris.

Hamler is the sanitarian for Madison County, and part of his job is to make sure that our communities’ solid waste is properly stored, secured and sent away to larger landfills outside the county. Since 1989 the county has handled the solid waste removal program that used to be run by a private contractor, and keeping our community clean is no small task.

Currently the county has two class III landfills, located in Ennis and Twin Bridges, and 10 container sites. The landfills accept waste items such as untreated wood, scrap metal and appliances, as well as tires and concrete for a minimal fee. Each year Madison County residents are assessed one Solid Waste fee per household of $118 on their property taxes.

In 2011 the Twin Bridges landfill collected 152 tires and 108.9 tons of wood and rock. The Ennis landfill collected 2,280 tires and 368.1 tons of wood and rock, and each time a resident dumps material at the landfill it is documented in a logbook.

Previously private contractors required a Class C public service commission license to haul garbage for the county. Madison County Solid Waste Board member Tikker Jones explained that the county government was exempt from the required license, and lacked the volume of waste that justified going through a contractor.

“The way the system works now is fairly fine tuned,” Jones said of the sanitarians office. “It was figured that the county could do it cheaper than we could contract it out, and it has proven to be so.”

A bale of plastic bottles waiting to be recycled sits at the county disposal site in Ennis. Photo by Ben Coulter

Container sites are located around the county at West Fork, near the Palisades fishing access on the upper Madison River, Ennis, Norris, Harrison, Cardwell, Silver Star, Twin Bridges, Sheridan, Alder and Virginia City. All household garbage can be disposed of at the container sites, and hazardous household waste such as paint that is properly prepared using a drying agent like sand or cat litter can be safely and legally disposed of as well.

Once a container is full, its contents are compacted and taken to a larger landfill. Trash compactors at the Ennis, Twin Bridges and Sheridan sites make it possible to hold anywhere from eight to 14 tons of solid waste per container. From here, Madison Valley waste is transported to the Gallatin County landfill in Logan while on the Ruby Valley side the garbage is taken to the landfill in Dillon.

The county also operates recycling bins at most container sites for aluminum, cardboard, newspaper, glass and plastic. Recyclable materials are condensed into large bails before being shipped off to facilities in Helena or Spokane. According to Headwaters Cooperative Recycling in Helena, in 2011 Madison County recycled 9.07 tons of aluminum cans, 70.6 tons of paper and 92.55 tons of glass.

Recently Hamler toured the counties’ container sites with the county Solid Waste Board, giving a hands-on look at the process of removing the counties’ garbage. Usually the fence line is littered with trash scattered by the strong winds that whip through the Madison Valley, and one board member even admits to looking the other way whenever he drives by the less-than-sightly container site.  But today Hamler is pleasantly surprised to find a less than usual amount of debris stuck in the fence.

With a smile that only comes from seeing a job well done, he said, “That’s pretty darn clean, I think.”

For more information on Madison Counties’ solid waste and recycling programs, visit the sanitarian’s department on the county government homepage at

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