Members of the Rose City Recycling Committee took their case for a formal, town-operated recycling program to the public Tuesday night, outlining possibilities and plans during a public forum at the Lovell Community Center.
Committee members Christy Fleming, Celecia Gallagher and Danielle Peck explained the project to the public.
Fleming first explained the history of the program, noting that a former North Big Horn Hospital employee (Del Weinhold) coordinated with Fleming to take the hospital and National Park Service internal programs to the general public in 2008. A multi-bin trailer was placed at the Red Apple Supermarket, with Fleming and the National Park Service coordinating and absorbing most of the expenses of the program.
Fleming noted that the program has grown from sending 30,000 pounds of material to Powell Valley Recycling in 2008 to more than 124,000 pounds in 2013 and even more by now, adding a cardboard trailer in 2010. The trailers are currently taken three times per week now (two cardboard trip, one multi-bin), and volunteers include the Park Service, Forest Service, Town of Lovell, American Colloid, Bairco and several individuals.
“The community has shown a need and a want for this program,” Fleming said, “but the Park Service can no longer maintain the program. We don’t have the funding to do it.”
The Park Service has purchased both of the trailers that are in use, parked at the Red Apple Supermarket, and if the community comes up with a plan, the trailers can continue to be used, Fleming said. But if there is no plan to move forward, the Park Service will remove the trailers around Jan. 1, 2016, she said, adding that she believes the town can make the program even better than it is now.
Gallagher said surveys show generally strong support for recycling, though some questions about funding remain, and Peck outlined the three plans the recycling committee has come up with, two of which involve the town hiring a part-time employee at 20 hours per week, the third an employee for 12 hours per week. Plan One (taking all material to Powell) would cost $21,250, Plan Two (town purchasing and operating a cardboard baler) $27,000 plus electricity in the first year and $17,000 plus power annually after that, and Plan Three (volunteer based) $12,750 per year.
The committee is suggesting a $1.50 monthly charge on utility bills to cover the cost of the program.
The recycling trio noted that it is difficult for recycling programs to pay for themselves, especially in small communities. Fleming noted that the committee receives only $75 per year from aluminum.
Keith Grant asked if the committee could coordinate with Big Horn County Solid Waste to ship material to the south county transfer station, where there will be a cardboard baler. That could be an option in the future, Peck said, but the committee is facing a Jan. 1 deadline.
Several at the meeting asked about the cost to the town if the recycling program goes away, and Councilman Scott Allred noted that the various town departments – water, sewer and garbage – operate with enterprise funds designed, by state law, to cover the cost of the services. He said the town has absorbed two or three increases by the county solid waste district, but if the material now being recycled is dumped back into the town garbage program, that cost would likely be passed on to customers.
“Understand that if we don’t do this the trailers disappear,” he said, and Bob Mangus suggested that the increase to utility customers may be more than the suggested $1.50 per month.
“One way or another, we’re going to have to pay for it,” Allred added.
The problem with government fees is that they tend to increase over time, Bernie DuMonthier said. Such programs are usually underestimated, he said, and before long citizens will be paying $2 per month, then $2.50.
“I recycle. I’m not against recycling,” he said, “but I’m on a fixed income.”
Asked about a private company handling the program, Allred said, “I’m a capitalist. If it was profitable, someone would do it. I’d go after it. But our population base is so small. There’s not enough business with the cost of trucking and collecting.”
When it was mentioned that Billings has free dumping at the landfill, Grant said that’s because Billings citizens approved a solid waste district, whereas a district was voted down in Big Horn County and people must, thus, “pay at the gate.”
Allred noted that the current volunteers have done such a good job that “we didn’t even have to think about it,” but now the community has to think about how to continue the program. He said Tuesday’s forum was designed to “spur conversation in the community.”
Fleming said it takes quite a lot of time to manage the program, and even when the program is running at full steam and trailers taken to Powell three times a week, the bins are overflowing and “it’s still a mess.”
The committee was asked about reaching out into the community for groups to continue the program, but Peck pointed out that efforts in the past to seek more committee members have produced few volunteers.
Jim Minchow noted that recycling cardboard from Minchow’s Service and Minchow’s Food Court has saved his company about $400 per month.
Jerry Warman suggested that the council couldn’t go wrong with trying the program with a fee of $1.50 per month, which would allow the program to continue in its present form, and as the landfill situation changes with transfer stations and the like, the program can be re-evaluated.
Peck asked what the next step should be, and Mary Matthews suggested that the committee speak with volunteer groups like the Scouts and with the schools once school resumes in the fall. Allred noted that gathering the material isn’t the huge issue, but transporting it is.
Allred noted that being green costs money, but he said it’s a matter of “pay me now or pay me later,” adding that any landfill has a finite life that would be extended with recycling.
Fleming said her worry is that, if landfill fees increase and there’s no recycling program, more and more people will dump on public lands. She said she realizes that people don’t make a lot of money living in Big Horn County, but they live here because they value public land and public spaces. She said recycling helps preserve those places.
Grant said education is the key. He said County Treasurer Becky Lindsey told him that she and her husband recycle diligently and now are down to 10 gallons of garbage per month.
Allred pointed out that it takes three readings to pass a recycling fee ordinance, so the public would have plenty of time to weigh in on the matter. Mayor Montanez agreed and said it looks like a consensus to try the $1.50 monthly fee.
By David Peck