Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:07 PM on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Residents push for recycling

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


In one word, that's the message citizens told Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey and officials from the solid waste department visiting Homer last Friday to talk about a $12 million transfer project at the Homer Landfill.

"We want to make it more efficient for people to recycle and make that the easy thing to do, the right thing to do," said Terry Mack.

Homer's award-winning EcoLogical students presented Carey with a letter urging the borough to expand recycling at the Homer Landfill, add a composting area and implement a "pay to throw away" system. Other citizens also said the borough should look at expanding recycling at the landfill.

"The conceptual design needs to be that it's easy to dump your recyclables," said Dale Banks, owner of Loopy Lupine, a company that sells products made of recycled materials. "This design is to make it easy to dump your waste, and that's what they're going to do."

In August 2013, the borough's permit from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to dispose of household waste at the Homer Landfill expires. The landfill also is running out of space to bury what experts call municipal solid waste that includes biosolids from the city of Homer's sewer treatment plant. The borough has proposed a $12 million project to convert the Homer landfill into a transfer facility, inert landfill and recycling station. Household trash will be compacted and trucked north to the borough's Central Peninsula landfill in Soldotna.

The Homer landfill would continue to accept inert waste such as construction materials and brush. Trash would be dumped at a new, open sided building, with commercial and private haulers using separate sides to safely manage traffic. The old building and baler would be used for recycling.

Borough assemblymember Mako Haggerty asked if the new facility allowed for growth if recycling was expanded.

"Has that been taken into consideration with this design?" Haggerty asked. "Are there areas to expand into composting, even plastics?"

Borough solid waste director Jack Maryott said the new building would be for managing and transporting household waste. The landfill site does have room for expansion if more recycling is desired.

"Hypothetically, this area could be increased if the decision was made to do that," Maryott said.

About 15 people attended Friday's meeting. Many argued that better recycling efforts would reduce the household waste to be trucked to Soldotna.

"It's a little frustrating when I hear we can't expand recycling, but now all of a sudden our backs are against the wall to spend million of dollars for a transfer site," Banks said.

Maryott noted that most recycled materials would have to be shipped to Anchorage at a cost of about $600 a truck load.

"There's an economic point where at some point it isn't free to recycle," he said.

Michael Kennedy said handling household trash also costs money — the cost of shipping to Soldotna and to manage trash in landfills.

"For every bale you can divert, you can pay to divert it and still save money," Kennedy said. "People can't seem to get that thought."

Money is the big issue in building the new transfer facility. The borough has put the Homer landfill project at the top of its capital projects list to the Alaska Legislature. In meetings with legislators, Carey said no one has committed to funding all $12 million. "We don't think we can fund all of it," is a common sentiment he heard from legislators, Carey said.

Friday night, Carey presented other options for the Homer transfer facility. These include:

• Separating the project into two and fund the site and road work in the 2012 budget and building construction in the 2013 budget;

• Ask DEC for a four-month extension on the landfill permit to December 2013 to allow more time on the project;

• Raise the property tax mill rate from 4.5 mills to 5.5 mills and raise $6.4 million;

• Fund the project from the $19.5 million general fund balance;

• Sell property in the borough's Land Trust Fund and use that money to pay for the project;

• Submit a bond proposition on the October borough ballot.

Carey also has said he doesn't think voters would approve a bond proposition on the October ballot. Prior conversions of landfills in Kenai, Nikiski and Seward were paid for by bonds. The Seward transfer facility had a $4.8 million bond in 1993, for example.

Borough taxpayers paid for other landfill developments. One argument to make for Homer's transfer facility is "You were in the same position Homer is now," Maryott said. "Your needs have been met. Now it's Homer's turn."

Carey hasn't said how much a $12 million bond would cost taxpayers or if it could be paid through the general budget. The borough's bonded indebtedness is part of the budget, and can change as other bonds get paid off.

Another idea Carey suggested was creating a recycling service area on the lower Kenai Peninsula, where local taxpayers would pay for expanding recycling beyond what other borough residents might support.

"I heard someone say 'It's right to do it,'" Carey said. "It might be a recycling service area will help us move to that proactive rightness."

In response to Kennedy's question if there was a Plan B in case the transfer facility wasn't built by 2014, Maryott said that he's considered that.

"We have to manage the waste. It's not going to stop coming," he said. "I have some thoughts about how to manage that, but it would be an absolutely worst-case scenario and it would not be a good state to find ourselves in."

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.