Dealing with a bear of a problem

New city law has officer keeping a closer watch on people's garbage habits

Posted: Sunday, July 01, 2001

Community Service Officer Mike Tagaban climbs into a white minivan at the Juneau Police Department shortly before 8 a.m. on Thursday. As the department's key contact on garbage issues, he already has responded to a call about a trash container downtown this morning. He needs to track down the owner.

Tagaban checks over a printout of contacts other officers have made about trash issues the night before. The information will be entered into a laptop computer he carries in the van. The computer's database contains a long list of addresses where garbage violations have been noted in the past.

"For some people, it takes two or three contacts before they wake up. The third time, we'll issue a citation, sometimes the second time," he said.

From the station, Tagaban drives to the Mendenhall Valley where he tries to stay ahead of the garbage trucks on the day's collection route.

"I'll see the issues before the trash company removes the trash. After that, I follow up on the bear report activity, to see if there's something out of the ordinary or whether it is something that attracts (bears) all the time and decide whether citations will be issued," he said.

Tagaban has been a police community service officer for the past 14 years. In addition to enforcing the city's garbage ordinances, he also deals with abandoned vehicles, provides support at traffic accidents and helps organize the Neighborhood Watch Program. He works closely with the city's Community Development Department on zoning and trash issues.

"In 1989 or 1990, when the first patrol route for garbage started, we had a serious problem. We've come a long way," he said.

Chapter 36.05, the city's code that covers refuse collection systems, requires garbage be kept in a clean container with a lid. Cardboard, boxes, tree limbs, magazines and newspapers can be left outside, tied in bundles with a stout cord. A violation can bring a $100 fine.

The city's new bear protection ordinance, which went into effect June 20, goes a few steps further. Trash cans need to be labeled with the owner's address. They should only be outside after 4 a.m. on the day of pickup, unless they are stored in a garage, shed or bear-resistant container. The city is still re-working the ordinance to better define more serious misdemeanor violations where a person is attracting bears on purpose or has failed to respond to serious garbage problem.

"The new ordinance has thrown everybody into a quandary over what's legal and what's not. I'm doing everything I can to educate the public," Tagaban said.

On Portage Boulevard, Tagaban stops the van when he spots trash bags and wrappers spilling out over a lawn. Two ravens are turning the mess into a meal. The address doesn't show up in the computer, and Tagaban pulls out a red warning tag and attaches it to a garbage can.

"In cases like this, I may come back in the next week or so to see if changes have been made," he said. Tagaban enters the letters "GAO," for garbage all over, into the computer. The homeowner will need to label the trash cans with a street address.

After issuing more warnings on Rosedale Street and Killewich Drive, Tagaban issues a ticket to Phillip Gordon for improper storage of garbage at Mendenhall Loop Road about an hour later. Bags and boxes are piled near the curb.

Gordon was in the middle of taking his garbage out when he received the citation. Police had issued a trash warning at his house a few days ago, but he was out of town, Gordon said in a later interview. A little more warning would have been nice, he said.

"I got a $100 fine, which is fine," he said. "I wasn't going to argue with the guy."

Bears frequently visit the area, in fact, one was sitting below the front steps of Gordon's earlier this week, he said. And he said he tries to lock his garbage up.

"In the garage, it just stinks and Bungee cords don't seem to do anything," Gordon said.

Back on trash patrol, Tagaban advises people to stay inside if they see a bear in their yard, let the animal be and clean up the mess when it leaves.

"A majority of people in the community do a good job in trying to secure their garbage. And then there are some that just don't care," he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at

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