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Kodiak residents seek landfill solution

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Posted: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 5:03 pm | Updated: 11:39 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

KODIAK, Alaska - On one side of a 35-degree gravel embankment is a towering pile of trash. On the other is a muddy pit.

Together, these two spaces in the Kodiak Island Borough Landfill are the present and future of trash collection in Kodiak. The current landfill and its hill of gravel-covered garbage is 10 feet short of a regulatory cutoff height. The nearby pit, soon to be lined in plastic and piping, will serve Kodiak's garbage needs for 20 years.

On Monday, Kodiak's solid waste advisory board toured the landfill on a quest to solve the next step in Kodiak's garbage dilemma - what happens after that pit is full?

Even with Kodiak residents throwing away a combined 33 tons of garbage per day, Kodiak's landfill is at least a generation away from filling up. Space left for another expansion pit means the current landfill could be usable as late as 2050.

That hasn't stopped members of Kodiak's solid waste advisory board (SWAB) from thinkin g of ways to stretch that timeline even longer, saving future borough residents millions of dollars.

With a new borough manager coming and construction on the new landfill pit hitting stride, SWAB members say the time is right to revive re-use and recycling proposals long demanded by Kodiak residents.

"There's a lot of things coming together," said SWAB member Cindy Harrington. "It's like a perfect storm."

As SWAB members trudged through the wind-blown stink of the landfill, they grilled borough environmental director Mike Patterson and landfill supervisor Alan Torres about the lack of a re-use station, commonly misidentified as a transfer station.

When borough garbage service was controversially overhauled last decade, residential garbage pickup changed from a trash bin-based system to one using curbside roll carts.

As part of the change, residents asked the Kodiak Island Borough to establish a re-use site where residents can drop off unwanted but usab le items, things like old couches or repairable outboard engines that someone else can use.

"Over in Anchorage, Wasilla, places like that, they have great repurposing centers," SWAB member Lenny Roberson said. "We, more than any other community, should have re-use and repurposing at the front of our plans."

While SWAB members watched a bulldozer crush window frames in the construction debris section of the landfill, Roberson explained how he's seen perfectly good plywood, panes of glass and other material go directly into the landfill.

In one example, Roberson said he saw three sets of garage doors, complete with windows and still in crates, smashed to bits because they were in the landfill and no one could claim them.

As Torres explained, the landfill isn't intended for people to come and pick. It's the end of the line for garbage, and for liability reasons he can't let people come en masse and take items out of the landfill.

"If there was a reuse site or something they could take it to, it'd be great," he said. "But the end of the day, there's rules and regulations I have to follow."

Last year, the borough assembly directed the borough's engineering and facilities staff to study the feasibility of a re-use station at the landfill.

On Monday, Patterson and Torres said the landfill isn't practical for a simple reason - space.

According to architectural drawings, the landfill's expansion project is absorbing virtually all of the free space in the landfill lot. What isn't being taken up by the landfill's new pit will be occupied by a water treatment plant, set aside for later expansion, or is being used to store the earth removed from the new pit.

While the landfill is bound on one side by Monashka Bay Road and on the other by Monashka Bay, the borough could buy land for a re-use site.

That would come at an unknown cost, however, and SWAB chairman Nick Szabo said other options are available. "There's se veral sites around that would be more convenient than the landfill," he said.

A top candidate is a borough-owned lot on the extension of Selief Lane, near the Dark Lake baseball fields. The lot is in urban Kodiak and next to Threshold Inc., the borough's nonprofit residential recycler.

While the site seems ideal, the borough's garbage bureaucracy has thrown roadblocks in front of any re-use plan.

The borough assesses garbage fees on a "pay-as-you-throw" basis. Generate more garbage, and you pay more. For homeowners, those fees are based upon the size of their roll cart.

For building contractors, the system is more complicated and sometimes involves truck-sized scales.

In order to prevent people from breaking that pay by weight system through re-use abuse, any re-use site would have to be staffed, borough employees said. That staffing requirement means a re-use site wouldn't come cheaply. Hiring a full-time employee brings costs, and any station would ne ed things like bear-proof fencing or a roof to keep rain away.

Despite those costs, SWAB members said they support the idea of a re-use site because it lowers borough costs in the long run. The landfill expansion project is expected to cost the borough more than $20 million, and tougher environmental regulations expected in the future mean the 2030 expansion will cost even more. The longer the borough can put off its next landfill expansion, the more money it will save.

"It has a potentially huge impact on the community," Patterson said. "The bottom line is we're all community members, and we all have our bags of trash."

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