Sitka is launching a top-to-bottom assessment of how it handles trash and recycling. On Tuesday night (3-11-14), the Sitka Assembly heard from the contractors tasked with creating a new solid waste management plan for the city. Representatives of the firm CB&I outlined the process that will, they hope, lead to a new master plan by September.

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Consultant Chris Bell had one suggestion for how Assembly members could wrap their minds around the different challenges associated with garbage and recycling in Sitka.

“I would ask you to consider riding, spending some time along with the garbage truck, seeing what they experience on a day to day basis,” Bell said. “Because a lot of things will open your eyes and [you’ll] see some of the intricacies of your system.”

Bell is part of a team from the contractor CB&I that’s in town this week to kick off a total reassessment of how Sitka takes out the trash. In February, the Assembly approved a contract of up to $250,000 with CB&I to develop a comprehensive solid waste management plan.

The team’s first stop was a work session with the Sitka Assembly. Project manager Phil Kowalski said his team will be looking at options to improve services like garbage collection; to increase recycling and composting; and to set rates that don’t overburden residents but bring in enough revenue to sustain whatever system that the city ultimately decides upon.

“Through this public process we hope to make people aware of what those balancing considerations are, and ultimately arrive at a recommended program that is practical and balanced between cost and environmental considerations,” he said.

Kowalski added that now is a good time for Sitka to reassess its waste management system because the most recent plan was completed in the 1990s, and the city’s contracts for garbage collection, recycling and shipping are all up for renegotiation in 2015.

Assembly member Mike Reif said the study is coming with a hefty price tag.

“Share with me some of your Southeast experience and why you can bring something to this collaborative process that’s going to be valuable for this,” Reif said.

Essentially, he asked, what makes CB&I’s input worth $250,000?

Kowalski said his background is in waste management plans for remote communities.

Chris Bell noted that only to date, only two Alaska cities – Kodiak and Juneau – have gone through the process of developing this kind of comprehensive plan, and said that he another team member, Richard Hertzberg, worked on both of those plans. He said the Juneau process led the city   to adopt a system of curbside recycling, by subscription.

Up next for the contractors is a meeting with the Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC). Kowalski said they hope to get plenty of public input.

“We’ve included in the work plan what we think will be a very effective program for allowing the public to participate in this planning process,” Kowalski said.

That program essentially revolves around the SWAC, which Kowalski said has already been formed. He said it includes representatives from the solid waste industry, environmental groups, the businesses community, the Assembly and the Sitka Tribe.

The committee will hold meetings in March, May, and July. The meetings will be open to the public, with time set aside for public comment. There will also be an online survey for residents to weigh in on the current system and suggest changes they’d like to see.

CB&I hopes to have final recommendations ready by August or September.

Meanwhile, none of the Assembly members committed to taking that ride on the garbage truck. But Deputy Mayor Matt Hunter suggested one potential incentive: “Wonder if they’d let us work the robotic arm?” he said.