One person’s trash is another’s treasure

Plans for a multi-million dollar renovation of Bar Harbor’s solid waste transfer station were unveiled at the town council meeting last week. The site is in serious need of an upgrade to make it more user-friendly for the public and more efficient for the town to operate.

As discussions proceed, there are other factors that officials may want to take into account. One involves an immediate need. The other concerns a much longer range goal. Officials estimate the operational life of a renovated transfer station at 20 years or more.

One person’s trash is another’s treasure. Many communities in Maine have an unheated building, a sort of swap shop where residents can leave serviceable household items they no longer want, but which can be categorized as “too good to throw away.” Other residents are free to help themselves with the proviso the items are not being taken for resale. In effect, it becomes a big yard sale – with no money changing hands.

If space becomes a premium, transfer station employees could dispose of items that have not been taken away after a few months.

The town would save from avoiding any hauling and disposal costs on the bulk of such items. And the program would be good for residents who could avoid new purchases. Recycling, and reducing demand for new items and the packaging that comes with them, would be good for the environment.

The town does not need to get into the business of warehousing unwanted building materials or salvage. Those can be recycled thanks to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, which operates its ReStore in Ellsworth for such surplus. But household items such as appliances, furniture, lamps, dishes, tools, bicycles and exercise equipment could be allowed.

Currently, Bar Harbor and 186 other towns across Eastern Maine are engaged in discussion about where the region’s trash will go once the long-term contract with the incinerator/electricity generator owned by the Penobscot Energy Recover Company in Orrington expires in 2018. No matter the final outcome of those talks, chances are good that towns will face increasing financial pressure from the rising costs of solid waste disposal. The scales eventually will tip toward mandatory recycling and/or composting and other methods of reducing the amount of trash generated.

The jury is still out on whether or not a pay-per-bag system would prove popular here.

For years, Bar Harbor has touted its high recycling rate, but the bulk of that boast comes from removal of mouse room waste from the Jackson Laboratory, which is composted privately. As society pushes closer to the goal of “Zero Waste,” the amount of trash merely tossed into the hopper to be hauled away will decrease.

The renovation of the current transfer station is an opportunity to look ten years or more down the road at the disposal landscape. The renovation plans needs to be flexible, either by including structures that can be adapted easily to changing demands or by assuring sufficient space is left for future expansion.

 Charter school funding

State Representative Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) and State Senator Brian Langley (R-Ellsworth) have introduced legislation shifting the funding burden for charter school tuition from local property taxpayers to the state. If passed and signed by Governor Paul LePage, LD 131 will go a long way to reducing a major point of resistance between the state and local school committees concerning how charter schools fit into the overall educational picture.

Charter schools, state-licensed private academies whether with physical campuses or merely online, are currently financed primarily by taxpayers in the towns where students live. Local officials have worried that as charter schools increase in popularity, resources will be drained away from existing school systems. That has resulted in widespread opposition to the expansion of charter offerings, particularly from local officials. Many feel the state’s approval of charter schools, without state funding, amounts to a substantial unfunded mandate. Last year, the first of operation for Maine Connections Academy, an online charter school, towns around the state were billed $1.7 million.

Under LD 131, the state would pay the total tuition bill and track that expense in the budget. Hubbell and Langley tried to get similar legislation passed last year. That was before more areas of the state began to feel the pinch with the opening of the Maine Connections Academy.

According to Hubbell, LePage has included the projected cost of the state picking up that expense in his proposed budget. Charter school officials welcome the bill because negative reaction to the costs at the local level has created neighbor pressure on students not to attend. With the state paying tuition, a student’s and parents’ decision will be made entirely on what is best for the individual student, not on who will be paying the bill.

State funding of charter school tuition also will remove a potential monkey wrench from the local education budget process. In nearly all school districts, the fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. However, most superintendents do not know how many students may be attending charter schools until late summer or early fall, making estimates about actual tuition bills problematic.

Hubbell and Langley’s bipartisan bill, submitted in consultation with the governor’s office, deserves broad and unequivocal support from the full legislature.

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