Friday, April 20, 2007

Recycling plan creeps toward law

Some want to trash proposed Sun Valley ordinance

Express Staff Writer

Recycled aluminum cans are aggregated at the Ohio Gulch Transfer Station north of Hailey.

The Sun Valley City Council held the second of three readings on the proposed "Comprehensive Solid Waste Reduction and Recyclable Materials Program" on Wednesday, April 18.

The council will hold a third reading on Thursday, May 17, after which it could move to approve the ordinance and the implementation process would begin. The proposed ordinance was initially coined "mandatory recycling," but it has always been "a market approach to reduce trash," said City Administrator Virginia Egger. The title "Pay-as-you-Throw" was also short-lived, as it apparently caused confusion.

The council considered holding the third reading on Thursday, April 19. The ordinance was derailed last month when the council held back-to-back readings resulting in public dismay.

Several residents of Sun Valley were present and appeared eager to voice their opposition to the city's proposed change to their existing solid waste hauling contract with Clear Creek Disposal.

"Most of the feedback I have received ... has been to applaud the recycling ordinance," said Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson. "But the big discussion items have been fees."

The proposed ordinance is designed to provide incentive for residents to recycle more while throwing away less solid waste.

"I am concerned the incentive will go to the (trash) hauler," said Sun Valley resident Ross Jennings.

"The perceived increase in fees is for someone who elects to not participate in recycling," Thorson said.

As it stands, a single-family residence currently pays $20.50 for a 68-gallon cart and recycling service. Under the new ordinance, the same cart would cost $22.

"But if I decide to go to a 32-gallon cart, my monthly fees go to $16 a month, a 22 percent lower rate," City Councilman Nils Ribi said. And, according to Ribi, therein lies the incentive—to increase recycling habits and decrease solid waste disposal in order to move to a smaller trash cart.

Clear Creek Disposal's accountant, Dennis Lallman, spoke about the fee scale and the potential profit or loss faced by his company.

"If everyone takes the 95-gallon cart (the largest offered to single-family residences), you are right, we will make a lot more than we should," Lallman said. However, if Sun Valley residents overwhelmingly opt for the 32-gallon cart, Clear Creek Disposal will face a loss.

"We have good checks and balances built into this."

The proposed ordinance calls on Clear Creek Disposal to submit financial reports to the city administrator on Sept. 1, 2007, on Dec. 1, 2007, and on May 1 of each subsequent year. The fee scale is based on predictions of how many residents will opt for the varying priced carts and the audits will give the city an opportunity to determine if the predictions were accurate. If Clear Creek Disposal reports windfall profits or losses, the fee scale can be adjusted, Egger said.

Sun Valley is composed largely of second homes and part-time residents. This presents a potential problem for residents who find it inherently unfair that they pay for 12 months of trash hauling and may only produce trash a few months of the year.

"Is it fair? Yes," Lallman said. "The trucks cost $250,000 per pop ... we don't know what days they are going to be here but the drivers need to keep driving the routes." In other words, many of the fixed costs remain the same.

Thorson agreed there "needs to be some mechanism moving towards equity for the short-term user."

The concern is not only that part-time residents pay for the entire year, but that they may end up paying more if they are in town during Christmas, for example, when trash production increases, and then they will be charged extra for going over their cart allotment.

Ribi suggested giving each residence four extra 32-gallon bags, free of charge, for months in which trash increases. Currently, the proposed ordinance would charge $6.50 for extra Clear Creek Disposal-issued trash bags.

Several residents in attendance spoke to a broader concern over the proposed ordinance.

"This micro-social engineering is going to cause confusion," said former Sun Valley councilman and resident Kevin Laird. "It's a ridiculous ordinance and ridiculous to change what is working."

Residents are encouraged to attend the third and potentially final reading on May 17, at 3 p.m. at Sun Valley City Hall. Information and agendas can be found at

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