Petersburg’s borough assembly will wait until later this month to decide on the purchase of a new recycling collection truck. The assembly Monday decided to table that purchase until its April 20th meeting. That’s after hearing that the blue plastic collection bags are impacting the rebate paid to the borough for recyclable materials and discussing a possible petition to continue with that program.

The borough has been relying on the private contractor Ruger’s Trucking to do curbside collection of co-mingled recycling in blue plastic bags. Borough public works director Karl Hagerman has recommended borough staff take over that collection using a new truck and new collection containers, both which were approved in the current year’s borough budget last month. Hagerman told the assembly he has heard from the company that takes the community’s solid waste that the blue plastic bags impact the value of that material shipped to Seattle. “He’s pretty confident as I am too with that new characterization with the bags mixed in still our values are going to be reduced significantly, probably to the point where it makes it very hard financially to continue on with the program,” Hagerman said.

The borough ships its solid waste to Washington state and has been getting a rebate for the recyclable materials shipped separately from the community’s garbage. That rebate amount depends on the amount of different products in the shipments, and the markets for aluminum, plastics, glass and other goods. The savings from recycling has been a driving factor for the borough in starting the curbside program.

Petersburg is planning to purchase blue recycling bins for household customers, to replace blue plastic bags currently used for curbside collection.

Petersburg is planning to purchase blue recycling bins for household customers, to replace blue plastic bags currently used for curbside collection.

However, the proposed change to borough collection and new containers has been controversial. The borough last week received an application for an initiative petition. That was from Ruger’s Trucking’s Angela Davis and it sought to put the continuation of the blue plastic bag program and private contractor service to a vote of the public.

Borough clerk Debbie Thompson on April 3rd deemed that the application was insufficient because it did not propose an initiative that was enforceable as law. The petitioners could still resubmit a re-written application. The deadline for the October ballot is this Wednesday, April 8th. If a new application meets legal scrutiny, then the petitions would have to go out and gather signatures to try and get the issue on the ballot.

Local residents continued to speak on the subject this week. Janet Holten urged the assembly to move on from the blue plastic bags, citing problems with animals getting into the recyclables. “Co-mingling is the best thing that’s happened to the Petersburg program and I’d like to go on record to state that the blue bags are not the vehicle to move it forward to being the best it can be.”

Another resident Kate Kowalski wanted the assembly to let the initiative process go forward. “And I hope that maybe that will continue and we will hold possibly on any purchases of this equipment until it takes place. I think there are a lot of people out there that feel very strongly about this issue. I feel there are a lot of people that aren’t going to recycle if these blue bins are ordered.”

Monday’s agenda included a vote on the purchase of a new truck for the sanitation department, costing the borough just over 207-thousand dollars. That money’s been set aside in the borough’s motor pool fund, essentially a savings account for replacement vehicle purchases for the municipality.

Assembly member Bob Lynn moved to table the decision until the second meeting in April. “My point being I think it’s inappropriate for us to make a decision today on a truck. It may not be unethical but I think it’s inappropriate. And I think we need to wait to see what our citizens do and then decide based on that initiative what they wanna do.”

Another assembly member John Havrilek said it didn’t make sense to hold off. “The other thing this is a logical next step in a recycling program in every place I’ve ever been. I just see it as mainly giving people false hope that put in a petition because then we’ll say OK let’s put it to a voter in October which will really mess up our finances even more than they are and we’re already hurting.”
The motion to table the decision passed by a 5-2 vote with Havrilek and Nancy Strand voting no.