Rules will be enforced after years of lax enforcement says director
City officials have put Valdez residents on notice that municipal codes regarding residential garbage collection will be enforced, after years of non-enforcement.
“These rules that have been in place – the code – they have just never been enforced before,” said Larry Weaver, the city’s public works director.
The codes, which can be looked up by anyone on the city’s website are sections VMC 8.08.030 and 6.08.040.
The rules include requiring residential garbage cans be outfitted with tight fitting lids and banning curbside pickup of trash bags outside of said garbage cans. Cardboard can be left outside cans, but boxes must be broken down and empty. In mailer sent to all post office box holders in Valdez, the city also said trash pickup will be in the morning, and residents may no longer pull garbage cans to the curb the night before pickup.
Violators face fines that can be up to $300.
“We’re giving people warnings,” said Bill Comer, Valdez police chief, who also said that as of Monday, no actual citations had been issued.
The city has run a series of public service announcements on local radio in addition to the mail out.
“The City of Valdez will begin immediate enforcement of these requirements,” the city flyer said. “Trash of any kind found outside of a fully enclosed trash receptacle will result in immediate issuance of a citation.”
The word immediate is bolded and underlined.
The move has angered many Valdez customers, who have long enjoyed the luxury of hauling out all manner of refuse - including lawn trimmings, brush and tree limbs – to the street in front of their homes twice a week for pickup from the city-run solid waste department.
The department cut curbside trash pickup to once a week earlier this year.
While consumer grousing at the cut in service was minimal, the fallout at city hall over enforcing existing codes, combined with service changes at the bailer facility and dumpster policy has some residents seeing red.
“It’s bad timing, everything coming at one time,” Weaver said. “We’re trying to make it as painless for people as we can.”
John Hozey, city manager, asked the Valdez City Council to approve hiring a temporary worker to pick up lawn trimmings on Mondays to address what he claimed constituted the largest number of complaints. The request of unanimously passed by the council Monday night.
City manager John Hozey said compromising on the lawn trimming issue will give code enforcement efforts on other requirements a boost.
“We can hold people’s feet a little more firmly to the fire,” he told council.
Weaver said the curbside code-enforcement move comes at the behest of the bear working group, which consists of a number of city department heads and state officials. Its purpose is to address the large number of conflicts between bears and humans in Valdez each summer. The conflicts often revolve around bear attractants such as garbage cans, barbeques and fish coolers left people leave outside their homes.
“The idea that’s going to stop the bears from getting in the garbage, we need to be real here,” council member Donna Schantz said Monday night at the requirement that all residential trash cans must have tight fitting lids. She said a bear broke a window on her car trying to get at half of a Subway sandwich her daughter forgot and left in the vehicle.
It was duly noted that regular trash can lids will not stop bears from getting into residential garbage, but it can stop birds from scattering trash, another frequent Valdez problem.
Numerous stories circulate about people getting surprised by bears hidden inside or behind dumpsters.
Hozey said enforcing the code has the added benefits of aiding city beautification efforts and will help extend the life expectancy of the city landfill. Hozey’s agenda statement to council said the existing landfill has absorbed numerous demolition projects, such as the old Harborview building. The demolition of the old junior high school will take up yet more space.
“The projected cost for closure of the existing landfill is $9 million,” Hozey’s agenda statement said. “ The estimated cost to open a new landfill is $14 million. This means landfill transition will cost Valdez $23 million. Administration is setting money aside every year for this, but including the 2013 contribution the reserve account only has $1,376,995 so far.”
It is hoped that increased recycling efforts will also help extend the landfill’s life span.
The new code-enforcement policy combined with new policies at the city-run bailer facility have created a large number of disgruntled comments to the Valdez Star from readers.
Last summer, recyclers of metals such as copper were dismayed to learn that harvesting from the city’s metal pit would no longer be permitted because a lock was put on the gate blocking public entrance to the site. City officials blamed ADEC, the Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation. DEC officials cried foul, stating the city could allow harvesting of recyclable metals, but only with the presence of a city employee to supervise recyclers.
At the time, city hall claimed no city employees were available to man the metal pit on a full time basis
Hozey said the new position will also give the department an extra hand to allow for monitoring of the metal pit.
Dissatisfaction levels rose into winter, when private vehicles were prohibited from entering the baler facility so that people could offload trash indoors. Instead, the public has been directed to dumpsters located outside the actual baler building.
Lewis Clark, baler worker, claimed the solid waste department saved $30,000 in heating costs by keeping its bay doors shuttered to private vehicles.
A shortage of dumpster for private household use has also prompted dissention.
While the city spent a large amount of time and effort refurbishing its dumpsters over the winter, a number of homeowners have complained that the city changed its policy on allowing homeowners to rent dumpsters from the city.
After Monday night’s council meeting, Weaver said residential demand for dumpsters (due to increased restrictions and cheap monthly prices) have caused the department to curb the number of private residential dumpster rentals it allows.
“We just don’t have enough dumpsters,” he said.