Household garbage from Sitka, Ketchikan and three other Southeast Alaska cities ends up in the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Klickitat County, Washington. (Photo by Tom Banse/Northwest News Network)

Caught between a rock and a possible 15-percent increase in resident garbage rates, the Sitka Assembly on Tuesday approved the purchase of a $3 million dollar trash compactor. While some didn’t support the way the compactor would be funded, others saw no other option for avoiding a steep penalty for shipping uncompacted trash.

The decision to purchase a $3 million dollar compactor for Sitka’s transfer station comes after Alaska Marine Lines announced more stringent requirements for shipping garbage last year, in an effort to prevent container fires at sea. 

Sitka currently ships its solid waste in open top containers with limited compaction. The city has been negotiating with solid waste contractor Republic Services over who will cover the cost of the new equipment. After months of back and forth, the cost is finally falling on the city. City Administrator John Leach said he felt like they could have put up more of a fight with the contractor, but any way you slice it, it could cost Sitkans more money. 

“I also want to let the Assembly know that we’ve tried just about every idea we could think of and really analyzed that to find out if it was even possible,” Leach said. “There is risk if we did nothing. But I would still argue that Republic Services knew exactly what facility we had before they entered this long term contract. So I think if it went down that path, there would be a lot of risks to that. But I still think we could stand to fight a good fight. But you as you know, the fight also costs money and time as well.”

Leach said if the city refused to buy the compactor, shipping costs would rise, spurring a 10-15 percent increase to Sitkans solid waste bills. Using the loan from the Southeast Economic Development Fund to cover over 90 percent of the project cost, paired with around $200,000 from the general fund would end up costing Sitkans a little less he’d estimated at a previous meeting– around $2.59 a month. As an added bonus, the compacted waste would actually cost slightly less to ship because it’s more efficient.

But while most assembly members agreed that the purchase of the compactor was necessary, some weren’t happy with using money from the Southeast Economic Development Fund to pay for the project. The fund was originally intended to bolster Sitka’s economy through small business loans. Assembly Member Kevin Knox saw the need for a major overhaul in solid waste, and he supported purchasing the compactor — just not with these funds. 

“I fully see the need for this. I fully understand that we have to make some changes in how we deal with our solid waste in Sitka,” Knox said. “Like I said last time, though, I’m not comfortable using this fund to essentially prop up what we really should be paying for in dealing with our solid waste.” 

But Assembly member Kevin Mosher said, while he wasn’t happy about it, it was a necessary evil to ‘keep rate increases from skyrocketing.’ 

“We’ve supported John to try to see if we can find a way to not do this, and there is no other way, unfortunately. I wish there was. And yes, a long term plan is going to have to be developed. This is not a sustainable thing. But right now, it’s in my opinion, it’s the eleventh hour. We have to make a decision, we have to get this thing funded,” Mosher said. I strongly support this not like not because I want to, not because I like it. Because we have to do it. We have to take care of our people and keep the cost as low as possible.”

But in the eleventh hour, one variable had changed. Leach said he had a conversation with USDA Rural Development, and had received a response shortly before the meeting that the government program may be able to assist with a grant or loan for the compactor. That meeting doesn’t happen until next week. Leach said if the city was able to secure the funding, they could likely return the appropriation to the Economic Development Fund. 

Ultimately the assembly approved the compactor funding 5-2 on second reading with Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz and Assembly Member Kevin Knox opposed. 

City to enforce parking rules for boat trailers

The city is now enforcing restrictions on overnight trailer parking in the Sealing Cove and Crescent Harbor lots. When the Sitka Assembly met on Tuesday (11-9-21) it approved changes to the city code requiring permission from the Harbor Department in order to park a vehicle with a boat trailer overnight. 

Currently, the launch ramp and parking at Crescent Harbor is for day use only, and trailers can’t be parked overnight there. Sealing Cove has designated parking for vehicles with trailers in a 3-day area and a 10-day area.

But Deputy Harbor Master Jeremiah Johnson said some people had been gaming the system. And while the Harbor Department doesn’t have a lot of time to enforce parking rules, the city code changes would give them more tools in their toolbelt. 

“We still feel that by adding these extra ordinances, that when we do have time to go and enforce these areas, it gives us more things to enforce when we have time to go do it,” Johnson said. “We can just, rather than chalking the tire, waiting the three days or the 10 days, we can write the ticket that day, and hopefully stop that misuse from happening that day, rather than coming back 10 days later to see if it’s still there.”

Assembly member Thor Christianson was concerned about a section in the new code that would prevent detached boat trailers from being parked overnight in the main lots, only allowing them in a designated RV lot.

“Modern trucks are 23 feet long. Probably longer than the boat they’re putting in there in many case,” Christianson said. “I mean, I’d rather see them take them off the trailer and go park in the parking lot if they’re going to stay to remove congestion.” 

Johnson said the detached trailer clause was meant to discourage long-term storage.

“More often than not, the abandoned trailers, the problematic sided trailers, are the ones that are left detached. So by not allowing the detached trailer in the main way lot, and providing them an alternative location keeps the primary corner used for the three day and 10 day and corner available to those that are actually using the facility on a day-to-day basis, not storing it there for long periods of time,” Johnson said.

Christianson moved to strike the unattached trailer section from the code, but the motion failed 3-4.

Assembly member Rebecca Himschoot supported the changes to city code, but asked that users of the lot report back to the assembly and Port and Harbors Commission if the changes weren’t working. 

“The whole goal of this is to not have anybody, so to speak, freeloading. And it unfortunately may come with a little bit of extra effort on the part of people who have been appropriately using the areas,” Himschoot said. “But let’s do it. And then let’s check back — if we don’t hear from anybody, it means it’s working. What I don’t want is to not hear from people and have them also unhappy and grumpy and complaining about what we did wrong.” 

The motion to change the city code to add the new parking regulations passed 5-2 with Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz and Crystal Duncan opposed