Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Small changes needed for waste management

Guest Commentary


August 13, 2020

I have great respect for Burl Sheldon’s experience and knowledge concerning solid waste. He and I have discussed this issue several times. But in his CVN commentary last week, Sheldon mischaracterizes the recent history of the issue, particularly regarding assembly action on waste in summer 2018.

The borough administration presented the assembly with an elaborate solid waste management plan that would cost up to an additional 1 percent sales tax ($630,000 annually) and add 11 pages of new regulations to borough code, but would not necessarily reduce dump fees.

As dump fees weren’t assured to go down, it seemed intuitive that the plan also might not achieve its prime goal – reducing illegal, roadside dumping. Still, the assembly devoted several weeks of discussion to the plan, which ultimately failed on a tie vote.

Clearly the plan didn’t die because of “personality politics” or “polarization.” It died because it was a pig in a poke with a big price tag.

I opposed the plan, which had been around for about three years, partly because when I campaigned for assembly in the fall of 2016, residents expressed to me apprehension about the borough getting into waste handling, a service already provided by a private business.

In retrospect, their fears were justified. Considering recent hits to the borough budget including state budget cuts and COVID impacts that are threatening local businesses, another percentage of sales tax would have been devastating to our community.

In place of the plan, I recommended an incremental approach to addressing our most pressing waste issues that could be accomplished for a fraction of the plan’s cost, including: 1) an annual, anti-dumping education program for young people similar to the annual Fire Prevention Week, 2) more trash receptacles for use by visitors, and, 3) working with Community Waste Solutions to provide garbage drop-off service up the highway.

(CWS is now offering the highway service weekly at Mosquito Lake.)

Other ideas I discussed with Burl included a downtown transfer site and dump vouchers for low-income residents.

I made a case to the assembly that the Haines Borough could fund, or help fund, some of these efforts without the government going full tilt into the waste business, just as the borough funds non-profits providing community services like our volunteer fire department, KHNS and Haines Animal Rescue Kennel.

Unfortunately, assembly members who supported the Cadillac proposal had no interest in my Subaru plan and progress stopped.

Sheldon believes that something must change. In fact, many things have changed in solid waste here in the past 25 years. The town formed Haines Friends of Recycling, which has reduced much of the landfill’s waste stream while providing recycling education, programs and products. There’s even a new business venture that’s recycling compostables. Most people have learned how to do the right things and are doing them.

Illegal dumping still occurs, but that also happens in towns with more elaborate waste management programs. Dumping – like other short-sighted behaviors like cigarette smoking and drunk driving – is best addressed by educating young people.

The landfill sometimes needs cleaning up, but borough pressure on CWS and on the state agency that regulates the landfill should easily address that.

Many of us remain confident that Haines can resolve its waste issues, thoughtfully, one step at a time, without haste or big-government plans. That’s an approach that most people can live with – and taxpayers can afford.

Tom Morphet


Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2023