Living under new garbage laws

Posted: Sunday, June 24, 2001

Although Juneau has a new ordinance in place to protect bears and control garbage, the work for local residents and officials is just starting.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Neil Barten advises people to look at their yards and think about what might attract bears, from garbage to birdseed to pet food. Keeping bears and people safe starts on an individual level, he said.

"Hopefully awareness will help," he said. "It's not going to be a quick solution."

The new city ordinance allows residents to leave regular trash cans outside on the day of pickup as long as it's after 4 a.m. The container must be labeled with the owner's address. Otherwise, garbage should be in a closed garage, shed or bear-resistant structure.

The city doesn't have any one design that it recommends for a bear-resistant container, said environmental zoning officer Dan Garcia. If a bear can't get inside easily, it might push the container over or jump on top, so it's a good idea to make sure the sides are strong, he said. Heavy-gauge hinges also help.

"Don't leave an opportunity for them to get their claws in to get a grip. If they can get a claw in, they can rip a door off," he said.

Additionally, there's a difference between garbage that's putrescible, or likely to become putrid, and garbage that's not, Garcia said. It's legal to leave non-putrescible garbage outside without putting it in a bear-resistant enclosure, he said. Unless the trash can is brand new, it's probably a good idea to wash it first, he added.

Officials are looking at stickers or other markers to identify a container with non-putrescible garbage, Garcia said.

Mark Farmer, chairman of the city's Ad Hoc Urban Bear Committee, plans to ask the Assembly for a $20,000 public affairs campaign that would include radio commercials, posters and flyers. In future years, efforts might cost $5,000 to $10,000 a year, he said.

"We're not out to make people's lives harder. We're just trying to do what's right for the community and the bears," he said.

Farmer said he'd like the Juneau Assembly to consider a property tax credit for people who use bear-resistant containers.

Meanwhile, the city is re-tooling the ordinance to better define a "bear attraction nuisance" and to give people 48 hours to address a garbage problem. Police are enforcing infractions for improper storage of garbage, but are holding off on charging people with misdemeanors until the changes are official.

Misdemeanors cover more serious offenses such as attracting a bear on purpose or failing to respond to garbage problem. A fine for a first-time misdemeanor violation starts at $100. A citation for a first-time infraction results in a $25 fine.

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