Friday, September 28, 2007

Sun Valley residents talk trash

New garbage ordinance placed on hold due to residents? concerns

Express Staff Writer

Jon Thorson Milt Adam Photo by Mountain Express

In a sharp departure from prior actions, the Sun Valley City Council on Tuesday, Sept. 25, effectively rescinded the Comprehensive Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling Ordinance that it passed June 20, 2007. The decision to rescind the ordinance followed public dissent over increased fees and, moreover, the fact that it was a perceived mandate by city government to recycle.

"This is not something the community requested," said Milt Adam, a resident of Sun Valley and City Council candidate who has taken a lead role in community opposition to the new ordinance. "This is something you people (the mayor and City Council) have forced upon us."

At the opening of the meeting, Mayor Jon Thorson said he has received a slew of e-mails and phone calls since the adoption of Ordinance 384. He said, "Personally, I find it unfair, cumbersome and flawed, and it needs substantial changes."

The new ordinance sought to reduce the city's carbon footprint by reducing the waste generated by residents. The move was part of the signing of the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which calls for cities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He listed the objections in the order of the number of complaints received.

"This was not a rush to judgement," Thorson assured residents, referring to nearly six months of public meetings that went into formulating the ordinance. And the objections raised were not new, as nearly every concern in the e-mails and phone calls received had been voiced in public meeting before.

City Councilman Nils Ribi spoke to the mayor's opening statement, noting the mayor is up for election in six weeks.

"Jon, you even said (in prior meetings), 'I think we got something here,' and now you say it's flawed and unfair," he said. "I just want to make sure comments are genuine."

The top four concerns Thorson said he received were:

- Complaints from part-time residents over having to pay for waste disposal when they're not in town.

- The variable rates over trashcan size are unfair and are "doubly unfair to the second homeowner because they are typically in town during high-throw times of year: Thanksgiving, Christmas and over the holiday season."

- The method of disposal is unfair, in particular the requirement that if a household fills up its trashcan it is forced to use Clear Creek-issued trash bags that cost $6.50 each.

- And, lastly, the use of six separate bins for the varying types of recyclable materials has raised concern since the ordinance was first introduced.

The unfortunate part is the city, in many ways, failed in its campaign to provide ample information to the public prior to implementation of the ordinance. One example is that residents were able to use their old bins for recyclable materials and were not required to use the six recommended bins that citizen letters cited as cumbersome and unnecessary.

"That was my fault," Thorson said.

The lack of hard data may have led to the wave of misinformation that eventually sunk the ordinance.

Thorson's list of complaints did not mirror the concerns of residents in attendance. This might be attributed to the fact that part-time residents have easy access to City Hall via e-mail, but many were not physically in attendance for Tuesday's meeting.

Perhaps surprising was that while the change in fee scale was an issue, it was not merely the fact bills would be higher that led to concerns. How the fee scale was implemented, the degree some bills were set to go up and the notion that residents were paying more for less service is what led to concerns.

Ketchum-based Clear Creek Disposal's accountant, Dennis Lallman, agreed that the fee scale proposed under Ordinance 384 was flawed.

"The pricing, no question, got out of hand," Lallman said. "At $38 (the cost of the large trashcan) we knew that in all likelihood there would be some windfall profits. And if it did happen we didn't want to be responsible for it. We would want to give it back."

The mayor and City Council, in conjunction with Clear Creek, designed the variable rate fee scale. The city sought to make a large division between the small trashcan cost and the large to encourage the use of the small can, and in theory reduce solid waste generated. Lallman said Clear Creek was fully in favor of opening his company's books to city auditors, a requirement written into Ordinance 384.

Many in attendance, in fact, voiced their support for granting Clear Creek, the company holding the non-exclusive agreement with the city, a fee increase. Clear Creek has not adjusted its pricing since 2001 and, as several residents noted, since that time operating costs have risen—especially those attributed to increased fuel expenses.

"Clear Creek has not had a raise in years, and I think they're due," said Sun Valley resident Rick Rutkowski. "I am vehemently against concessions for part-time homeowners, and I don't agree with having people call in to stop their service (when they're out of town). This may work in Boise, but Boise doesn't have 75 percent of their population part-time. This means the 25 percent who live here will have much higher costs."

This sentiment was echoed throughout the meeting, as was disapproval over variable rates depending on the size of trashcan a household uses. This idea was the basis for the Pay-as-you-Throw system that the city used as the foundation of its solid waste reduction program.

Sun Valley resident Jean Mabbatt said that as it stands she and her husband, Tony, have the largest trashcan (95 gallons) and pay $46.70 per quarter. Under the new pay scale with the smallest trashcan (32 gallons) they would pay $51 per quarter.

"This was billed as free recycling, but then the regular fees went up so much," Tony Mabbatt said.

Variable rates, as unpopular as they appeared in Sun Valley City Hall, "work," said Craig Barry, executive director of the Environmental Resource Center in Ketchum. "We live in an environment that's changing dramatically, and we need to start addressing CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions."

Barry went on to say how other resort communities, Whistler, British Colombia, for example, are making "huge investments to address climate change." And he stated that 25 percent of U.S. communities work under a variable rate system of waste disposal.

"We're going to be in dire straits, and if you think your program reduces greenhouse emissions show me how it does," Barry said. "It's a real issue, and waste reduction is the easiest thing a city can do."

Barry went on to note that in two to three years the Ohio Gulch Transfer Station (where Blaine County's inert trash currently goes) will reach capacity.

Sun Valley resident and City Council candidate Dewayne Brisco suggested a more pragmatic approach, citing efforts made by the resort community of Aspen, Colo.

"Aspen set a specific goal, a percentage reduction in over-trash," Brisco said. "I find this to be more effective in mobilizing the public than a nebulous goal to reduce global warming. Aspen saw a 14 percent reduction in trash, and they have almost exactly what we have now," referring to the trash collection program in place and not the recently passed ordinance.

Adam noted that setting a reduction goal for Sun Valley would be difficult because the city has no historical data available on the tonnage of trash generated.

"How do we know if the program is successful?" Adam asked.

Regardless of measurable differences, Barry emphasized that the benefits of reducing a city's carbon footprint "are incredible. Go with the status quo, and we'll get the status quo."

For now, and to the cheers of most residents in attendance, this is exactly what the city of Sun Valley will get. The preexisting flat rate for unlimited trash collection will remain in place while a committee comprised of Adam, Thorson and City Councilman Blair Boand work to formulate changes to the city's solid waste collection practices.

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