The goal of a solid waste working group in Haines is to draft a management plan for how to deal with the borough’s trash. That’s what they decided at their first meeting and they’ve been working toward that objective for the last few months. But, at their latest meeting the group took a step back to reassess what issues they need to focus on. The biggest factor at play is cost.
The working group circled back to one fundamental question.
“I’m still trying to figure out, in terms of solid waste, what is the issue and why is this group here,” said group member Jeremy Stephens. He said the two concerns he’s aware of are illegal dumping and whether waste should be a borough utility. Melissa Aronson from Haines Friends of Recycling said another is how long the landfill will last.
Interim borough manager Brad Ryan said one thing he would like to see the group address is whether the cost of disposal would go down if everyone was paying for it. He said cost is likely the reason that some people illegally dump their waste instead of bringing it to the landfill.
“I don’t get the feeling that the dumping is because there’s nowhere to dump it,” said Ryan. “I get the feeling that it’s viewed as free and it’s expensive to dump.”
Cost was something group members agreed is critical to the discussion. Currently, it’s up to residents to dispose of their own waste, and they’re charged by pound at the landfill. Assembly member Margaret Friedenaur said she doesn’t think that’s a good system because cost prohibits some residents from participating.
“Solid waste management is not available to people who can’t afford it. It’s just not. And that to me is a problem. That the entire burden needs to be on the borough and on everybody who lives in the borough,” said Friedenaur.
Friedenaur said solid waste management is a health and safety issue and should be looked at like a utility. She said she’s not advocating for mandatory pickup, but a flat fee that would allow residents to self-haul waste. Residents could pay extra if they did want pickup.
Aronson pushed back on that.
“If it goes to a utility then there’s not a benefit for the people who are recycling and composting and keeping their input of waste down because it becomes a blanket fee for everybody,” said Aronson.
Phillip Reeves said if cost is the major issue, mandatory pickup is probably a bad idea.
“We can pay it, but there’s a lot of people here who have a hard time affording to go to the landfill,” said Reeves. “So raising their costs a good deal so someone could come pick it up is not–”
But Sally Garton from Community Waste Solutions said it’s her understanding that the more people that are involved in a collection service, the lower rates would be.
“It would actually be cheaper to have collection the more people we have on board for collection then it would be to self-haul,” said Garton. “You would actually be saving money.”
With cost at the center of the conversation, the group decided they need more information about what the price tag would be for different scenarios.
Stephens suggested issuing an informal RFP to see what the costs would be for different collection and disposal scenarios. For example, a company could calculate what flat rate residents would have to pay to make mandatory pickup feasible.
“Why not just issue an informal request for proposals and let firms tell us what it’s going to cost,” said Stephens. “Not firms, just companies that are in the business.”
There were a few hang-ups with that idea. One came from Ryan.
“If you were really going to back it, what are you backing it with? You’re putting out an RFP with what funding?” asked Ryan.
The other is that anyone that wants to collect waste or operate a transfer station needs a permit. There are only two permits allowed in the borough and Community Waste Solutions currently owns both of them.
Stephens said he thinks they could still reach out informally to see what costs would be, without being backed with funding. An informal RFP or study is still on the table as a possibility, but wasn’t decided on at this meeting.
Group members are planning to research possible waste management scenarios for their next meeting. Though they have been gathering once a month, the group decided to schedule their next meeting just a week away, on February 16.