2020 is almost here. State and local issues like budget, taxes, climate change and the Permanent Fund will remain tough to solve and likely continue to be divisive, generating emotional and vehement opinions.
But, while those battles boil, it may be time to address a community need that has simmered on the back burner for a very long time.
It’s often said that “history repeats itself.” One only need read old newspapers to realize how some problems never seem to go away.
According to newspaper accounts, Juneau’s first city council did what it could to address the town’s most pressing needs. Ordinance #1 was adopted on Aug. 21, 1900. It prohibited slaughterhouses within the city limits and regulated the keeping of goats and swine. It also prohibited the deposit of garbage and refuse anywhere except at the city dump which was to be on the beach in the area that is now Harris Harbor. Households were required to have metal receptacles for garbage and violators could be fined from $20-$100 or jailed for up to 20 days.
Now, over 100 years later, we are still dealing with garbage problems.
First impressions are critical to a community’s success. If a whiff of Juneau’s landfill is the first impression visitors get when arriving, Juneau has a problem.
There is much we don’t agree on, but can we agree that the odor emanating from Juneau’s landfill should no longer be tolerated? Can we resolve to address this problem now for the benefit of every single Juneau resident as well as our visitors?
We are fortunate that with well-managed community finances, we can afford to consider the luxury of providing or subsidizing new government services like senior housing, childcare, pre-K education and cultural facilities.
In the last year, millions of dollars’ worth of projects have been proposed that have sparked controversy and diverted attention from more basic needs. City leaders seem to stray further and further from focusing on core functions of government as our problem with garbage gets worse and receives scant attention.
Even though Juneau’s landfill is operated by a private entity, this is a community concern (and potential health and safety issue) and should be addressed as such. According to the city, the landfill has approximately a 20-year life remaining and, with few, if any, recycling markets now available, there is little opportunity to extend its life. Eventually, it must be closed and an alternative found that will likely be more expensive.
Like most messy issues, the longer we wait the more expensive it will be.
Does it make sense to be ignoring this any longer? What options are available to neutralize the odor? What is the long-range plan for solid waste management?
Common New Year’s resolutions usually consist of getting in shape, eating healthier and spending more time with family. All laudable goals. For those who want to do more, working toward serious and realistic waste management solutions would benefit everyone in the community.
Alternatively, resolutions that would also make our community more livable and welcoming and, in some cases, lessen its financial burden include:
• Increasing donations to charities and give more often
• Reaching out to a legislator or legislative staff member and invite them home for dinner
• Volunteering to help in local schools
• Volunteering for community cleanup or trail maintenance efforts
• Volunteering at a favorite nonprofit helping those less fortunate
• Working as a Travel Juneau volunteer welcoming and assisting visitors to Juneau
• Driving defensively and courteously
• Picking up after your dog (and goats and swine), even when no one is looking
Championing any of the aforementioned suggestions won’t likely attract many votes in our next municipal election. They don’t lend themselves to campaign slogans.
But, wouldn’t we all benefit if local Assembly members took a more basic, but long-range “dollars-and-scents” approach to budget priorities?
Self-reliance and individual responsibility are in most Alaskans’ DNA. As we face challenging economic times, our willingness to work together on self-evident goals can pave the way for cooperation on more contentious goals — helping to ensure a happier and healthier New Year for everyone.
• Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.