By Pat Grubb
An ordinance that would amend the solid waste and recycling collection system in Point Roberts was turned back by Whatcom County Council in a 5-1 vote on May 8. The ordinance was to be introduced with a public hearing scheduled to follow on Tuesday, May 22. Council’s action returns the ordinance for further discussion in two week’s time by the council’s solid waste sub-committee.
Council member Barbara Brenner made the motion to decline the introduction after hearing from residents who have raised concerns about the mandatory aspect of the proposed system along with other issues.
“I feel there is pressure to do this thing and I don’t like that. If we go ahead and pass this ordinance, it’s going to put a burden on a bunch of people whether it’s necessary or not. I just don’t think it’s fair to put this burden on people without a lot of input,” Brenner said. Depending on how the committee discussion goes, the ordinance will either be re-introduced in front of the full council and a public hearing set or it will be directed back to staff for further consideration.
While council was discussing the matter, there was a lively Point Roberts Community Advisory Committee (PRCAC) meeting going on at the Gulf Road community center. So lively in fact, that at one point, deputy sheriff Tom McCarthy said he would like “to announce to everyone the definition of disorderly conduct” and, after doing so, pointed out that it was a bookable offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine. “I’m putting it out there because I’m beginning to think that something like that may be occurring and I don’t want to write a long report,” he said.
While McCarthy didn’t name any one person, a very passionate Heidi Baxter who had interrupted the meeting numerous times took it personally and made a lengthy and loud exit while she retrieved posters and display items she had brought to the meeting. Baxter has been an ardent opponent of the proposed mandatory trash pickup and had advocated for other community-oriented options.
The PRCAC meeting was the first meeting held subsequent to a town hall meeting to discuss the proposed system held in mid-April. Close to 100 people had attended that meeting and while the mood could be described as generally positive, there were significant differences of opinions regarding various aspects of the proposal. One major bone of contention was the plan to charge taxpayers for a minimum service level equal to every other week collection of a 32-gallon trash container. Christopher recounted a conversation he had the afternoon of May 8 with Jeff Hegedus from the county health department solid waste division. Hegedus had told Christopher that the county and service provider Cando had decided they would treat that fee as a non-refundable credit.
By doing so, it would mean that residents could put out up to 26 trash cans at any time in the year before being charged for overages. Part-time residents had taken particular umbrage at being charged for a service even though they weren’t in residence for much of the year. With the flexibility of the revised plan, seasonal residents would still receive the benefits of trash collection without being penalized during their absence by paying for a system they weren’t using.
While the revision appeared to go toward satisfying much of the audience, the 26-can service level, the ability to self-haul to the transfer station, community composting and other system enhancements remained hot topics. Christopher pointed out that picking up trash cans was just the first step in the process. Trash collection is regulated by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission which analyzes operating costs and sets allowable prices and determines a maximum profit margin for each trash hauling company in the state. The solid waste transfer station is under the county’s regulatory and taxing authority and its operations must be determined separately. Hegedus has said the county intends to examine those operations next.
Christopher proposed to fellow board members that a sub-committee be made to get community input on what changes were needed for solid waste management on the Point. Following approval by the board, Christopher called for volunteers to join the PRCAC Waste Management Sub-committee. In response, Jordan Strub, Bill Meursing, Barb Bradstock, Kimberly Butts, Samantha Scholefield, Allison Calder and Jeff Christopher volunteered and were named to the sub-committee.