Pay-to-throw trial tossed

BAR HARBOR — A seven-month trial period for a “pay-as-you-throw” (PAYT) system for residential and commercial garbage was rejected by the Town Council on Tuesday.

A motion to institute the trial failed by a vote of 4-3 following a public hearing and presentations from Public Works Director Chip Reeves and Sarah Bernier of WasteZero.

Councilors Gary Friedmann, Anne Greenlee and Clark Stivers supported the trial period motion. Paul Paradis, David Bowden, Peter St. Germain and Burt Barker opposed it.

WasteZero works with about 40 of the more than 130 towns in Maine which use some form of pay-as-you-throw system, Bernier said. Some of the smaller towns don’t work with any outside group and charge cash at the transfer station.

The North Carolina-based company offered to contract with Bar Harbor for a “trash metering” system in which residents buy special color-coded garbage bags produced by WasteZero. Bags are sold at local retailers for $1 or $2, depending on size. Under the system, most of the revenue from bag sales goes toward the town’s municipal solid waste program, although the company keeps a percentage.

Commercial haulers and anyone dumping trash not in the designated bags would have the waste weighed and would be charged a $95-per-ton tip fee. Reeves proposed that rate, slightly lower than the fee in Southwest Harbor, to avoid pricing Bar Harbor out of the market.

A crowd packed the council chambers and spilled over into an adjacent, larger room. Twenty-four of the 32 residents who offered comments expressed concerns about the proposal, including the possibility of illegal dumping; the cost burden on those with fixed incomes; fairness for residential, commercial and nonprofit users of the transfer station; and the availability of plastics recycling.

The town is currently recycling all solid (non-film) plastics dropped off in the recycling area, Reeves said, even though they’re only able to sell No. 2 plastics. All other plastics are collected in a separate, small trash bin off to the right of the recycling area and taken to the EMR transfer station in Southwest Harbor. The town has to pay to dispose of them but at a lower cost than the tipping fee for trash taken to the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company in Orrington.

Resident Sean Sweeney called the idea that taxes would go down if solid waste costs were covered by user fees “a lie.” He estimated that residential trash in the bags will cost $160 per ton, while commercial haulers would be charged $95. “I feel I’m being forced to pay for your ideas,” he told councilors.

“I like the premise, but the net result would be negative,” Town Hill resident Tyson Starling said. He said volunteers in the annual spring Acadia Roadside Cleanup event already find alarming amounts of trash, including returnable bottles and cans, on the side of the road. “And we have beautiful lakes and an ocean that will hide a lot of garbage.”

He suggested requiring a windshield tag for residents wishing to dump trash at the transfer station. “We could have bag tags or another system for nonresidents. We don’t need a PAYT system to institute a tipping fee.”

“I’m for PAYT, but I’m more for businesses paying,” College of the Atlantic Discarded Resources Manager Lisa Bjerke said at the hearing. “Not charging [for commercial waste] is unheard of.”

Bernier said Wednesday she doesn’t know of any other Maine municipalities that do not charge commercial haulers a tipping fee.

Oak Hill Road resident Ruth Poland said she has lived in several towns with pay-as-you-throw systems, including one which began its program while she was there. Those towns did not develop illegal dumping or littering problems, she said. “The purpose of the program is to transfer the cost.” She said charging a tipping fee could pass more of the cost of solid waste in the town to tourists if businesses raise their prices to cover trash disposal costs.

Reeves presented a budget for the seven-month trial period, a sketch of the transfer station with temporary scales for weighing any vehicles dumping trash not in designated bags and estimates of how tipping fees might be passed on to customers of hauling services. None of the area haulers had signed off on or agreed to the numbers presented, he said, but he has been talking with them.

A business with a 4-cubic-yard dumpster currently pays about $70 per month for one pickup per week. Actual disposal costs are covered by property taxes, just like with residential users. If all the hauler’s tipping fees included disposal charges and were passed to the customer, that would jump to $175 per month.

“Those businesses are not going to save $1,200 in a year on their taxes,” Councilor Peter St. Germain said.

It’s not only residential property taxes supporting the current system, council Chair Paul Paradis said. Businesses pay both property taxes and business excise tax on their equipment. “Commercial entities are 60 percent of our tax base,” he said.

Chamber of Commerce representative Alf Anderson suggested more information and education sessions on the topic. He said seasonal business owners are only now arriving and haven’t had a chance to learn about the proposal.

Several commenters said more than one pay-as-you-throw system should have been considered. Matt Hochman suggested the town form a task force to compare providers and make a recommendation.

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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