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

Posted: March 30, 2014 - 12:07am

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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robert thorstenson
robert thorstenson 04/03/14 - 12:20 am
Misinformed article

Last I checked, arrow had spent gazillions on new service and curbside recycling. Just what CBJ needs is a couple dozen more employees. This is a creative, half fact , half myth fictional article and I'm a bit shocked that these folks allow their name to be on it.
Eminent domain? Are you driving kidding me? Is this some kind of a joke?

Abby Lowell
Abby Lowell 04/04/14 - 11:53 am
Regarding facts presented in this piece

Hi readers,

The facts in this piece were provided to the council by CBJ. CBJ was provided the facts from Pacific Waste (formerly known as Arrow Refuse).

It's completely ok if you disagree, but please keep in mind the facts were checked.

On the topic of why the student's report was not mentioned in the article: This piece is meant to be a 40,000-foot-view of the issue at hand. Where our trash is coming from and when was a detail the group decided may muddy the overall message, which is that something should be done to get our trash problem under control. That said, there were members who felt strongly the information presented in the student report was relevant and important. Hence, we decided to present it the way we did.

Thanks for the feedback and thoughtful comments.


Judy Hodel
Judy Hodel 04/04/14 - 05:01 pm
Eminent Domain

A bad deal for the city and cash cow for Waste management.

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