Southeast Alaska regional leaders have drafted an ordinance for voters to approve that would create a regional solid waste authority.
"The key to the whole making the authority function and succeed is probably Juneau in the mix," said Karl Hagerman, Petersburg public works director.
That's not too likely, though.
Southeast communities have been batting around the idea of joining forces on trash for many years. Theoretically, they could stand to save a lot of money.
Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, Craig and Klawock spend at least $2 million a year to send their trash to big landfills in eastern Washington, said Jon Bolling, Craig city administrator.
A regional landfill - on Prince of Wales Island, perhaps, but probably not Sitka - could save a lot of money. It would give local communities more control over what happens to their trash. And it would provide jobs and cash for the community that was willing to take the trash.
That's the basic idea, but it's not the only solution - recycling, compacting, composting, or generating energy from trash are among the many options the authority could consider.
"All of those are still options," Bolling said. "A lot of it is going to boil down to cost."
Juneau makes the hefty volume of trash - 33,000 tons a year - that would give such projects an economy of scale. But Juneau may just keep its trash at home.
"Attitudes toward the landfill have always been negative. But it has one overriding advantage, and that is: It's cheap," said Bob Doll, a Juneau Assembly member.
Doll is the city's liaison to the Southeast Conference committee that has led the effort to create a regional authority. As he describes it, he's been sitting back - supporting the efforts, keeping Juneau's foot in the door, but not participating actively.
Once the Juneau landfill dies, the city has two options, farther up the Lemon Creek valley, that were identified in 1993 as potential new landfills. The existing landfill is estimated to be good for another 25 to 30 years, perhaps longer if the city residents recycle a lot.
Perhaps Juneau might be courted? Or perhaps, said Hagerman, the city might eventually find the prospect of shipping its trash elsewhere more attractive than it does now.
"I hear from different folks that the Lemon Creek mountain is becoming less and less positive for the residents," he said. "What is that going to look like in 30 years?"
With or without Juneau, the trash authority is moving along, driven by the communities that need it more.
Last month, Southeast Conference finished a final draft of an enabling ordinance to create the Southeast Regional Trash Authority, and it's working on a development plan as well.
The authority is modeled on Alaska's port authorities: It can issue bonds, but it can't tax people; essentially, said Bolling, it has to succeed on the merits of its business plan.
Voters must approve the enabling ordinance for their municipality to participate in the authority. Communities can get involved once the authority is formed, as long as they pass the same enabling ordinance.
The ordinance may come before voters in Southeast communities this fall, if the process stays on track.
"We'd like to have all the communities participating," Bolling said. "If we don't get that, we'll do what we can."
Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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