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Empire Readers' Council Editorial: 'Mount Trashmore' - it's complicated

Posted: March 29, 2014 - 11:07pm

Juneau’s got a smelly, toxic and growing trash problem.

It’s no secret; most residents know that Juneau has a predicament with its trash. According to information provided by Pacific Waste to City and Borough of Juneau Public Works Director Kirk Duncan, the local landfill has a lifespan of 23 additional years. Annually, Juneau deposits 31,000 tons of garbage from private and corporate entities onto what some have come to call “Mount Trashmore.”

Many have strong thoughts on a solution: get a plasma incinerator; mandate recycling; implement extremely high collection fees to reduce the volume of trash generated; have all parties sit down and work out a solution; encourage the Department of Environmental Conservation to make Waste Management clean up the landfill, stop the smell and protect our water.

These are but a few we’ve heard.

Finding a long-term biosolids — sewage sludge — and waste management solution is first priority for the Juneau Assembly for 2013-14, according to news from the October 2013 Assembly retreat.

The situation is complicated, and the CBJ has fewer options than most municipalities for managing our waste. The city controls neither the landfill nor the single certificate of convenience, which provides the holder the exclusive right to collect trash in Juneau.

Instead, both are owned by private firms.

A solution will require courage and leadership by our elected Assembly, hard work by CBJ staff, and money; the cost ultimately — and correctly — will be shouldered by the residents of Juneau who generate the trash and who will also benefit from a resolution to the waste problem.

Inaction has a cost too, as the size of the trash pile and the cost of a solution grows by the day.

We believe securing the COC from Pacific Waste will provide CBJ and the citizens of Juneau with the most direct means to gain control of this expanding problem and put the CBJ in a position to control our destiny.

Given the complexity of this situation, introduction to the major parties and review of a few facts are in order.

• Waste Management Inc. owns the landfill site, which is permitted by the Alaska DEC.

• DEC has primary regulatory authority over Alaska landfill sites and operators under federal regulations.

• Alaska Pacific Environmental Services, which does business in Juneau as Pacific Waste (formerly known as Arrow Refuse), holds the COC and collects solid waste in Juneau.

• CBJ contracts with Waste Management for disposal of biosolids, resident delivered, sorted recycling and co-mingled recycling collected by Pacific Waste.

• Biosolids and recycling materials (excluding glass) are shipped outside of Juneau and do not directly contribute to the growing landfill mound.

• Aside from biosolids disposal and recycling, CBJ has no contractual agreements with either Waste Management or Pacific Waste; consequently CBJ has limited ability to directly influence how these two private companies run their businesses.

Most municipalities have greater control of their trash destiny than Juneau does through control of either the landfill or the COC (control of both is not permissible). Control over one of these two key components, even when day-to-day service is outsourced to a private contractor, allows the municipality to control the particulars of trash collection and disposal through the terms of contracts.

Whether it’s mandating recycling, increasing collection fees or reinstating an incinerator, we believe securing the COC is the first step toward granting the CBJ and the citizens of Juneau a viable solution to our growing trash problem. With the COC in hand, CBJ can negotiate terms with a contractor for trash collection that emphasizes recycling and volume reduction. Terms of this agreement could also be used to influence changes to the current landfill operation via either capital investment to address odors, contaminated water collection or increased export of trash, to name a few.

CBJ’s last negotiation to secure the COC was ultimately unsuccessful. This time, negotiators will have that experience to guide them. And while the price tag will likely be high, we believe the final cost will be far less than other alternatives.

One thing is for certain: the cost of inaction is worse. If negotiations are unfruitful, the CBJ may consider eminent domain to secure the certificate of convenience.

• Empire Readers’ Council editorials are written by Roger Baty II, Mary Becker, Larry Gaffaney, Joseph Kahklen, Mike LeVine, Tim McLeod, Tom Rutecki and Amy Skilbred. Juneau Empire Director of Audience Abby Lowell serves as a moderator.

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Clay Good
Clay Good 03/30/14 - 06:20 am
Good News!

Young people are already working on a solution.

Students from JDHS presented their research on the problems and solutions for Juneau's solid waste and biowaste to a panel of scientists at the 2014 National Ocean Sciences Bowl.

Their research paper was well-received and earned them second place at the annual statewide competition.

Perhaps community leaders could invite them to present their information right here at home.

Tom Leston
Tom Leston 03/30/14 - 12:20 pm
I thought CBJ leased the

I thought CBJ leased the land to Waste Management, Inc.
I don't see how Waste Managements permits are renewed. Are they in a flood zone? Are they contaminating the area? The landfill should be closed, the fill moved and the area restored. I wonder if there is state or federal money available to help do this?

I think CBJ should create a new dump in a more appropriate location and have locals run it.

Judy Hodel
Judy Hodel 03/31/14 - 12:54 pm
Clay FYI

The following is from the JE link to the award winning study by JDHS students. Why is this not mentioned? Makes a lot of sense. A million people visit Juneau in the summer? I guess no trash associated with them.

"We propose that some of the project be funded by cruise ship head taxes in order to offset the large amount of solid waste they contribute to the landfill."

Clay Good
Clay Good 04/01/14 - 03:12 pm
It's Not All Good News, Judy

Notwithstanding the manifold benefits of industrial tourism, it isn't all good news. The cruise ship industry probably doesn't want our community to focus on the impacts of their solid waste, waste water or smog.

I used to take students to the landfill every year back when we still had an operational incinerator. More than a decade ago we were told that our solid waste stream doubles during cruise ship season.

It will be interesting to learn about the waste contributions of various sectors, including cruise ship waste, to our waste management dilemma.

JE providing a the link to the student report is a bonus. I've read it a few times. The student recommendation that we use the head tax to offset some of the costs of managing cruise ship waste seems appropriate.

Whether or not we factor into our equation the impacts of cruise ship waste, Juneau direly needs to address its waste problems. And I think it's great that young scientists are interested in solutions.

Bill Knabke
Bill Knabke 04/02/14 - 06:04 am
Thumbs up for a Plasma incinerator

Head tax money, plus funds otherwise foolishly spent on a road to another ferry terminal, should cover it.

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