The Haines Borough is offering up its services to regulate rates at the town’s privately-owned trash disposal business. One assembly member’s change of heart caused the body to reverse its position on whether to ask for state or local regulation. In a 4-2 vote, the assembly decided to ask for local control.
This has been a tricky subject for the assembly, mainly because there are a lot of unknowns.
The trash business in Haines has entered new territory. After years of competing private refuse companies operating in the borough, there is now just one. Community Waste Solutions is working to acquire former competitor Acme Transfer’s license.
The Regulatory Commission of Alaska is reviewing that license transfer request. The RCA says in the face of a monopoly on the local waste disposal market, there is a need for rate regulation. The commission is asking the borough to comment on whether it would prefer local or state oversight.
Sally Garton is with Community Waste Solutions, or CWS.
“We’re asking again, just please, keep it local,” said Garton. “We’re trying to keep the community in mind. We’re trying to do what’s right for the community.”
Garton says RCA regulation would mean an increase in rates. CWS hired a law firm that specializes in these issues to help make the case for local regulation. In a letter, attorney Paul Jones outlines the burden of RCA regulation on small utilities like CWS. He says local regulation is the norm in rural Alaska.
“Not only will we lose control, but we’re gonna shake up the hornet’s nest,” said Assemblyman Tom Morphet. “The collection people won’t be able to afford collection, and then we’re really gonna need a garbage task force.”
Morphet says Haines’ unique garbage system is not compatible with RCA oversight. In Haines, many people haul their own trash to the dump instead of paying for pick-up. But since CWS’s certificate only deals with refuse collection and disposal, the RCA probably won’t be able to consider the income from self-haul.
“Our model for how we handle trash here is different than almost every other community in the state,” Morphet said.
Interim Borough Manager Brad Ryan maintained his stance that he would prefer state oversight. He said amid local budget constraints, dedicating staff time to this task doesn’t seem wise.
Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer agreed. She said she had not seen evidence that CWS’s rates would skyrocket under RCA regulation.
“I’m sorry but I have no idea how you could say that,” Friedenauer said. “I mean, the RCA can’t even predict if rates will go up. So I don’t know how to take CWS’s information at value, not understanding how they came to that.”
At a meeting in February, the assembly was split 3-3 on this issue. Mayor Jan Hill broke a tie vote in favor of telling the RCA the borough prefers state oversight.
Ron Jackson voted in favor of state regulation then. But at the most recent meeting, he changed his mind.
“To me it seems if we have local control, we might have just a little better handle on adapting to changing conditions,” Jackson said.
The assembly voted 4-2 to write another letter, now asking for local oversight. Friedenauer and Mike Case were opposed.
The decision is ultimately up to the RCA, which is set to issue a final order in June.