An Alaska Waste truck enters Waste Management’s Capitol Disposal Landfill in Lemon Creek Monday morning. Starting Wednesday, residential prices will increase nearly three time the current amount and residential dumping hours will reduce also beginning Saturday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

An Alaska Waste truck enters Waste Management’s Capitol Disposal Landfill in Lemon Creek Monday morning. Starting Wednesday, residential prices will increase nearly three time the current amount and residential dumping hours will reduce also beginning Saturday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Landfill price increase has residents down in the dumps

Resident landfill user charge to nearly triple, dump hours to be reduced.

Getting rid of trash in Juneau is about to get considerably more expensive.

Waste Management, the private company that owns Juneau’s only landfill, recently announced an increase in its disposal charge that will nearly triple the current minimum rate in addition to a decrease in hours for residents to dispose of their trash beginning Wednesday.

Currently, the minimum dump charge for residential users is $49.50, but starting Wednesday it will rise to a minimum of $141.18. Current residential dumping hours will also change from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m time frame on Saturdays to 8 a.m.-noon.

[City set to receive $2.5M from feds to create new commercial-scale compost facility]

In an email Waste Management’s communications manager Brad Harwood said the rate increase is needed to provide site improvements, specifically the installation of a new scale at the site’s entrance. Harwood said he could not share the number of yearly residential users who will be affected by the changes, the estimated cost of the new scale or an outline of the other site improvements that necessitated the increase.

According to the company’s website, the new, longer scale and other billing changes will make landfill visits easier and faster for its commercial customers.

Waste Management district manager Mike Mahaffey referred questions from the Empire to Harwood, however, in a news release Mahaffey said the landfill changes are necessary for “safety and efficiency.”

“Improving safety and efficiency at the landfill continues to be a top priority and requires difficult decisions,” Mahaffey said. “We understand not everyone will like the new schedule and yet, after considering numerous alternatives, it’s clear the change is necessary for public safety.”

Harwood explained the reduction in hours was “under consideration for some time” but ultimately was decided due to recent safety issues that have arisen which he said is due to customers choosing to not follow basic safety rules at the site.

“Repeatedly, customers have refused to use the required safety gear (personal protective equipment), exceeded the speed limits and have shown a reckless disregard for safe vehicle spacing. This blatant disregard for safety has created an intolerable situation,” he said.

In addition to the safety concerns, he said the reduction in hours is also an effort to encourage residents to participate in curbside pickup which he said could reduce residents’ carbon footprint.

“When a collection truck serves 50 households, that’s one truck going to that landfill rather than 50 cars. Think of the carbon footprint impact if everyone signed up for curbside collection! If you’re interested in helping the community achieve greater sustainability, it’s time to consider the curbside collection,” he said.

According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Juneau’s landfill is only expected to last for 17 to 26 more years. Currently, there is no long-term solution to solve the growing problem and limited time to address it.

Multiple vehicles line up at the entrance of Waste Management’s Capitol Disposal Landfill in Lemon Creek Monday morning. Starting Wednesday, residential prices will increase nearly three time the current amount and residential dumping hours will reduce also beginning Saturday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Multiple vehicles line up at the entrance of Waste Management’s Capitol Disposal Landfill in Lemon Creek Monday morning. Starting Wednesday, residential prices will increase nearly three time the current amount and residential dumping hours will reduce also beginning Saturday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

City Manager Rorie Watt expressed concern in a recent memo that the price increase and change in hours will likely cause residents to seek other places — such as city property and forested areas — to dispose of trash to save on cash.

Watt stated the city is probably going to have to increase funding — anticipated to be around $50,000 — to pay for hiring additional staff for CBJ Parks & Recreation, the Lands Division and Streets Maintenance to prepare for the likely increase in dumping on CBJ property.

“When people dump trash, it’s mostly on city property so it’s likely we’re going to have to clean up more trash,” Watt told the Empire. “It’s unfortunate that we have to deal with bad behavior, but I have to be realistic — if people don’t have reasonable and affordable ways to get rid of their garbage, we’re going to see the consequences.”

Watt emphasized that neither the city nor the state has the authority to regulate the landfill’s access availability or fees because it’s privately owned, therefore it’s up to the corporation to decide.

Watt said in past years there has been little to no necessity for the city to get involved in addressing spikes in landfill prices because it has not happened to the degree to which it is about to become.

Now, however, he said it’s likely the city will need to look for “creative solutions” to possibly ease the cost for residents, though he couldn’t point to anything currently in the works.

Watt also expressed criticism of WM for its lack of communication with the public about the reasons that led to the dramatic change. He said just over the weekend he received nearly 50 emails from concerned residents asking for information about the landfill that he couldn’t answer.

“I am depressed that I have another unwinnable complicated thing that I have to solve,” he said. “I think they’ve done a bad job rolling out the change and I wish Waste Management figured out a way to accommodate the public better.”

Skip Gray, a Juneau resident for more than six decades, said he can’t recall a time when he’s seen the landfill increase similar to the one slated for later this week. He said he thinks the combination of an increase in rates and a decrease in community hours is both unfair and problematic for the Juneau community.

He said he feels the company did not provide enough information to justify the price rise and said he rejects its rationale that decreasing public hours will improve safety as he said he believes it will only increase hazards due to the likely influx of people at the location in the same four hour period each week.

Gray said he urges the city and state to look into solutions to aid residents who cannot afford the increase and stop residents from dumping in other locations in addition to emphasizing the need for extended residential hours.

Gray wasn’t alone in criticizing the increase. Many Juneau residents expressed similar concerns on social media with posts on the topic accruing more than 120 comments, most of which criticized the change.

“How often does anything raise that high that fast? It just doesn’t seem fair,” Gray said. “If it’s going to cost that much, people on a lower income might choose to dump on the side of the road.”

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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