Former mayoral candidate Mark Farmer has been appointed by Mayor Sally Smith to head an advisory committee studying Juneau's garbage bear problem.
Smith made her panel picks public at Monday night's Juneau Assembly meeting: photojournalist Farmer, city environmental zoning officer Dan Garcia, police Chief Mel Personett, Arrow Refuse manager Glenn Thompson, Fish and Game biologist Neil Barten, assembly member Marc Wheeler and Juneau photographer Pat Costello.
"I applied to the mayor Smith for a topnotch group of individuals, with real expertise they can bring to the community," Farmer said today. "I will apply my will along with theirs to take care of the problem."
Farmer estimated the group would meet over "two or three months" and then make its recommendations to the assembly.
Six intractable black bears were shot and killed in Juneau over the summer five by Juneau police and one by a Juneau resident at Eagle Beach.
Before bowing out of the mayor's race and throwing his support to Smith, Farmer proposed a garbage-bear control plan for the city that included compulsory use of bear-proof garbage containers and hiring a year-round, state-trained bear-control community service officer.
Farmer also proposed that 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 said a condition of his support was that Smith if elected take steps to address the bear problem.
Smith was cool to the idea of property-tax relief at the time.
"Bears are a problem, of course," she said. "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."
Committee member Thompson of Arrow Refuse said he and his crew have had plenty of up-close-and-personal experience with bears in Juneau.
"There are a lot of options, including shooting or relocating them," he said from his office in Ketchikan. But educating customers about not putting their garbage out the night before pickup is high on his list, he said.
Arrow has also been installing bear-proof lids on its Dumpsters at a cost of $300 each along with locking modifications for its smaller, plastic-lidded Dumpsters, he said. "But there's a Catch-22 here. A parent sends a kid out with a bag of garbage and the kid might have trouble unlocking the Dumpster. And then he leaves the bag by the side of the Dumpster."
Remarking on the expensive lids this morning, Smith said: "That's why I don't think it's going to be a big, citywide thing."
Asked whether a city employee with a job description aimed at solving the bear problem is necessary, Thompson replied: "I don't know if a bear czar is necessary, but it certainly is a possibility."
Committee member Costello, a longtime bear photographer, launched a Web site in September in an effort to help keep the black bears of Juneau out of trouble, he said. He became motivated to start the site after the glacier bear he was taking photos of last summer had to be shot by police. The site includes advice about bear behavior, accounts of garbage-bear incidents, and how-to's for garbage containment. It can be reached at www.juneaubears.com.
"In the past 20 years the situation hasn't changed," Costello said. "During one year, we shot 19 bears in the community. The bottom line is that garbage needs to be contained, he said.
Smith said she and committee members were still working on the scope of the committee.
Farmer expressed optimism: "It's not Farmer the politician anymore," he said. "It's Citizen Farmer - and it's a joy to be part of the action."
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