State objects to Dillingham dump bear tour

Posted: Thursday, May 18, 2000

ANCHORAGE - Letting a guide charge people $20 to view bears at the Dillingham dump is a bad idea that ``sets a bad example for other Alaska communities,'' state officials say.

The Dillingham City Council recently granted a permit allowing wildlife viewing at the dump, which attracts up to 70 brown bears.

Department of Environmental Conservation Solid Waste Program Manager Heather Stockard quickly sent a letter notifying Dillingham officials that state law requires landfills to be managed to keep wildlife and pets away.

``Bears are a problem at landfills throughout the state and we're working with communities to minimize their bear problems,'' Stockard said. ``This is a bad idea that certainly seems to be in conflict with the city's responsibility to appropriately manage the landfill.''

Allowing tourists to enter the gated landfill and sit in a van while they watch bears eat trash is unsafe, she said.

It's not clear yet whether the her letter will sway council members to reconsider the permit, which passed May 5 by a 4-1 vote.

City manager Chris Hladick, who opposed the plan, said he will give council members the letter. He will also suggest they view a video about the problem of bears at landfills. Hladick said he hopes the council will reconsider.

``I just don't think it's a good idea to let people get that close to them,'' he said.

Hladick also is working with state officials to close the problem landfill and open up a new one with an electric fence to keep out bears.

Local tour operator Karen Roberts, who was awarded the permit, said she thinks the state is late stepping in.

``Bears have been a problem at the landfill for a long time,'' Roberts said. ``People were illegally getting into the dump and now that a safe proposition has come across the desk, the city manager is trying to stop it.''

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