Pay to throw decision due

BAR HARBOR — Opinions are divided on a proposed “pay-as-you-throw” (PAYT) system for residential and commercial garbage ahead of a Town Council vote on the issue set for Tuesday, April 19.

Under the PAYT system presented to the council by national firm WasteZero last year, residents would be required to purchase special garbage bags at local businesses. Commercial haulers, who do not currently pay to use the town transfer station, would pay a tipping fee based on weight.

If councilors approve a proposed six-month trial, the system would be implemented beginning Nov. 1. At the end of six months, a town meeting vote in June 2017 would decide whether to keep the system in place.

Supporters say PAYT systems are designed to reduce taxes and encourage recycling, composting and other ways of reducing waste.

A group called “A Climate to Thrive” hosted an information session on the issue Tuesday at the Jesup library. The group has not taken a position on the PAYT issue in Bar Harbor, but its ZeroWaste committee supports the proposal.

“I was really pleased with the turnout and the fact that people had so many good questions,” the group’s program manager Ruth Poland said. “I really wanted it to be a true info session, not preaching to the choir.”

A Climate to Thrive began as a volunteer project of Mount Desert Island residents and now has official status through the New England Grassroots Foundation, Poland said. They also have received some grant funding from the National Resources Council of Maine and private donations, supporting two part-time staff positions.

Opponents of the PAYT plan are concerned about cost and whether charging to dispose of trash will encourage illegal dumping or trash stockpiling.

The Chamber of Commerce does not yet have an official position on the issue, Director Martha Searchfield said, but “it’s difficult to see how this benefits business.”

Searchfield also is owner of the Canterbury Cottage bed and breakfast. There, she said, they don’t have room for a commercial dumpster.

“A lot of people are residents/business owners and live above their businesses. I don’t think this is the plan for Bar Harbor.”

Town Councilor Gary Friedmann proposed the six-month trial at a March council meeting. He said savings to the town from reduced waste and revenue from selling bags and charging tipping fees could pay for the costs of setting up the trial system, because it’s not included in the budget for fiscal year 2017.

“It’s the only fair way to do this,” he said at the time, arguing voters would be able to make a more informed decision on the program after the six-month trial. “No one’s going to know how the system works until we try it.”

Public Works Director Chip Reeves and Finance Director Stan Harmon have been working with WasteZero to develop a detailed plan for how the system might work in Bar Harbor.

Reeves presented a 12-month budget for the system to the council in March. He has since prepared a separate estimate for the six-month trial, as well as a site sketch, to present at next week’s meeting.

“The cost is about $65,000 for the trial period,” Reeves told the Islander. Some of the work involved will need to be done anyway, he said, as the town moves towards implementing a master design plan for the transfer station site.

“The only things that would need to be undone [for the transfer station project] would be removing the temporary scale and doing something with the temporary weigh shack.”

The decision will be made following a public comment period on the issue at the meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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