Mayoral candidate Mark Farmer is proposing a garbage-bear control plan for the city that includes compulsory use of bear-proof garbage containers and hiring a year-round, state-trained bear-control community service officer.
"The garbage-bear problem is another example of what I perceive as a decade-long absence of direction and leadership within the CBJ assembly," Farmer said. "Imagine the community-wide consternation that would happen if a tourist was attacked by a garbage bear and the footage wound up on CNN."
Farmer would also have the city build or install bear-proof collection points for each residential block in high-density areas; offer property tax credits to property owners and developers to offset the cost of containers and secure collection points; and increase fines for noncompliance.
Farmer's rivals in the mayoral race took some exception with his plan.
"Bears are a problem, of course," said candidate Sally Smith. "But we have so many priorities in times of declining revenues. I don't think you can talk about property tax reduction until you're thoroughly entrenched in what the priorities need to be."
Fairbanks residents didn't have a bear problem, partially because trash pickup there was a municipal operation, said Smith, a former Fairbanks resident. "Everybody could afford trash pickup."
Candidate Jamie Parsons said the city ought to continue the education process "to encourage people not to put garbage cans out the night before pickup."
Parsons said he doubted bear-proof containers exist, citing an account by an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist about a bear that had acquired the habit of climbing a tree and then leaping down onto plastic Dumpster lids, crushing them.
Parsons said he would not be in favor of creating a new position to oversee the bear problem.
"Mark is proposing we spend more money," said mayoral hopeful Patty Zimmerman. "Making money should be our priority, here. What we need is better management of our garbage, and that includes recycling efforts."
Funding for the program would "have to come from the present CBJ budget and fines, though I feel the head tax money could be used for the program as well," Farmer said. He estimated individual bear-proof containers could cost between $100 and $200 per household.
Fish and Game area biologist Neil Barten said Farmer had "some good ideas especially the one about working with us."
Bear-proof containers are the ultimate fix to the problem, Barten said, though they are expensive.
"Farmer needs to work with the police department to find out how much time they spend fighting the bear problem," he said. "Things haven't changed since the mid-'80s. Every year we throw money into a bottomless pit."
Barten said he expects to address the Juneau Assembly soon on possible ordinances that would help ameliorate the problem.
"We need to make it illegal to put out a garbage can before midnight or 2 a.m. the night before pickup," he said.
"The city also needs to work with trailer courts to get them Dumpsters," Barten said. "Right now they all have garbage cans waiting there like little popsicles for the bears."
The lack of locking lids on trash containers and the proliferation of unnecessary bird feeders also needs to be addressed, he said.
The groundwork for solutions has already been laid in other communities, notably in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Barten said, and the city would do well to listen to experts from the area.