The Haines Borough could save upwards of $20,000 per year if it disposes of its garbage in Washington state instead of in town. At an assembly meeting Tuesday, discussion over that idea highlighted uncertainty about the future of the town’s current solid waste system.
Right now, the borough does what many residents do — self-haul garbage to the privately-run Community Waste Solutions. At a cost of 27 cents per pound, the borough paid about $39,000 for solid waste disposal in 2016. That’s according to Interim Borough Manager Brad Ryan.
“We think that we could easily cut our trash bill by half,” Ryan told the assembly.
His idea is for the borough to buy containers and set up a transfer station where garbage would be stored until the containers are ready for shipment.
A few times each year, the borough would ship the trash-filled containers to a disposal company in Washington state. Ryan says the company charges only eight cents per pound, so the borough would save about $25,000 per year. The up-front costs are about $21,000.
But it wasn’t just a simple question of cost savings for the assembly.
“This is kind of a further fragmentation of some kind of comprehensive approach for the community,” said Assemblyman Tom Morphet.
Morphet was hesitant for two reasons. One, the borough is a big customer for Community Waste Solutions. He wondered if the municipality taking its business elsewhere would impact rates for other people.
He was also worried about this plan disrupting the efforts of the recently-formed solid waste working group.
“I understand that there’s a lot of political momentum pushing for us to comprehensively deal with our garbage on a community-wide basis,” Morphet said.
Assembly members Heather Lende and Ron Jackson were also wary of Ryan’s proposal.
But Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer, who is the chair of the solid waste group, was not.
“I’m not sure that the solid waste working group is going to come up with a comprehensive approach to recommend immediately or soon even,” Friedenauer said. “It’s taking a lot of work and a lot of discussion.”
She said in the meantime, this is a responsible decision for the borough. Friedenauer said it also offers an emergency back-up for the community if something went wrong with the sole solid waste business in town.
“What’s our contingency as a community?” Friedenauer asked. “If the private company that handles our solid waste were to close tomorrow, if the RCA or DEC shuts them down? There’s a whole lot that can go wrong with one private entity handling a community issue like this.”
Community Waste Solutions became the only trash disposal facility in Haines last year, when competitor Acme Transfer closed. The Regulatory Commission of Alaska has been reviewing the transfer of Acme’s license to CWS. During the review, the RCA found that CWS’s rates are not regulated by either the state or the municipality. Apparently the lack of oversight happened after consolidation, because the old city of Haines used to have rate regulation authority.
In a letter to the borough, a judge with the regulatory commission says with the license transfer, CWS ‘would become an unregulated monopoly provider’ of garbage service, unless the state or municipality takes over rate regulation. The RCA is asking for the borough’s comments on the matter by March 2. The assembly may make that decision at its next meeting Feb. 28.
The assembly also held off on making a decision about Ryan’s proposal to cut costs by shipping refuse out of town. They referred the idea to the solid waste working group for comment.
The working group meets next Thursday at 4 p.m. at the library.