The Sitka Assembly on Tuesday night authorized the city to spend up to $250,000 to develop a new solid waste management plan.
The vote marks the start of a total reexamination of how Sitka deals with its trash.
The city plans to hire the firm CB&I (Shaw Environmental, Inc., a Chicago Bridge and Iron Company) to draw up the plan.
City Administrator Mark Gorman spoke for many in the room when he said he initially had “sticker shock” at the cost. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars is a lot, he said.
“We’ve received some comments from the public,” Gorman said. “Saying, a quarter of a million dollars, what is this buying us?”
What it’s buying is a top-to-bottom assessment of how Sitka handles its waste now, what it could do differently in the future, and how much it all might cost. The study will cover everything from trash and recycling to composting and bear problems. The city last created a waste management plan in the 1990s, Gorman said, and it’s about time it was updated.
“The price seems high, but not doing it, I think the price will be considerably higher,” Gorman said.
Public works director Michael Harmon is heading up the effort. He said one of the big issues the plan will address is whether to ramp up the city’s recycling program. Right now, residents can drop off household recycling at the Sitka Recycle Center. But Harmon said that other communities across Southeast are trying a different approach.
“[In] Southeast, in particular Juneau and Petersburg, there’s a big focus, even Ketchikan, looking at upping their recycle program and moving to curbside recycling, where you get it collected at your home-site,” Harmon said.
Gorman said that Sitka currently has a fairly low rate of recycling.
“And if you make access easier, for example curbside recycling, you can drive that way up,” Gorman said.
But the plan will address much more than just recycling – everything from how much waste Sitka can expect to generate in the future – and how much it will cost just to maintain existing services – to what would be required to add new services, like composting.
Harmon said that CB&I was chosen in part because they’ve worked with other Alaskan cities, including Kodiak and Juneau, and understand some of the challenges that Sitka faces as a remote island community. Sitka currently ships its garbage by barge and rail to the Roosevelt landfill in eastern Washington; recycling is also shipped to Washington State.
A team from CB&I will be in Sitka the week of March 11 to kick off the effort. They will meet with the assembly and city staff, and hold several public meetings to hear from community members.
Harmon said he hopes for a final plan to be ready this fall. The city’s current contracts for garbage collection and off-island disposal expire in 2015, and Harmon said that would be a good time to make any changes, if the city does decide to transform the way it takes out the trash.