Blocking bears: Juneau looks at lid options

Posted: Thursday, March 07, 2002

The trash containers in a garage at Juneau's landfill exemplify the town's ongoing struggle with hungry bears.

The lids tell much of the story: some are plastic with wire tie-downs, another is heavy-duty steel. Off to one side is a prototype aluminum model.

As city officials work on a new ordinance that would require metal lids on many Juneau Dumpsters, the community is preparing to obey it, but some people are concerned about the cost.

"We want to make sure we're ready no matter what the Assembly does, to make sure we have inventory," Waste Management District Manager Mike Allison said. "If we start early and try to be proactive, we'll be ready for when the bears wake up."

Waste Management is a private company that collects garbage and operates the landfill in Juneau.

The Juneau Assembly is working on an ordinance that would give bears "one free lunch" from a Dumpster before a metal lid would be required. Officials and members of the city's urban bear committee noted repeat attacks by bears last summer on Dumpsters that had plastic lids.

"They do work, I will say that," Allison said of metal lids. "A bear's favorite tactic is to jump up and down on a plastic lid and basically cave it in."

In recent weeks, the city and Waste Management have been working with T&S Welding in Juneau to retrofit containers with a new, locally produced aluminum lid. Waste Management has been using steel lids from North Dakota that are susceptible to rust, Allison said. About 40 of Juneau's 600 Dumpsters already have metal lids, he said.

Mark Farmer, the former chairman of the city's bear committee, recommends that all containers have metal lids. Requiring metal lids on some containers while permitting plastic lids on others will send bears to parts of town with easy access to garbage, he said.

"You're just going to see bears going to Dumpsters and places they didn't normally visit," he said.

Assembly member Dale Anderson said the ordinance gives people the option of enclosing a container with a fence or other structure.

"If someone builds an effective garbage container, they shouldn't have to put a metal lid on that Dumpster," he said. "There are other solutions that can handle the problem other than metal lids. We want to give people the option to choose which one works for them."

Metal lids come at a price. It costs about $11 a month to rent a metal lid for a 1 1/2- or 2-cubic-yard container and $23 a month for a 3-cubic-yard container, Allison said. Maria Mattson, association manager with real estate firm Ricker and Associates, said the cost may be a financial burden for some.

"I realize the problem has to be dealt with, but a lot of (condo) associations don't have the extra money to do this," she said.

Ricker and Associates manages 16 condo associations, six commercial buildings and several rentals in the Mendenhall Valley, downtown Juneau and Douglas. About half of the properties have containers with metal lids, Mattson said. Several associations are looking at surrounding their Dumpsters with a fence or other structure instead, she said.

"It appears to be a better long-term solution," she said.

Allison of Waste Management urges anyone who plans to build a bear-resistant structure or enclosure to call his office first to make sure the company's trucks and workers will be able to get into it, he said.

Assembly members plan to discuss the metal lid ordinance at a Planning and Policy Committee meeting at noon March 18 and at an Assembly meeting at 7 that night. Public comment will be accepted.

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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