Carbondale wrangles with garbage as homeowners group acts
As the Carbondale Board of Trustees weighs a series of Environmental Board recommendations on trash hauling, the River Valley Ranch Homeowner’s Association is already taking steps of its own to limit trash truck traffic.
It’s an old debate in Carbondale, which takes a free-market approach to waste hauling that leaves many neighborhoods with garbage pick-up every weekday.
Following in the footsteps of some of the town’s smaller HOAs, River Valley Ranch is seeking proposals that will limit the subdivision to one trash hauler or two haulers in zones on either side of the river. The submission deadline is Dec. 5, with a decision expected by the end of December, meaning that 348 homes — a substantial chunk of Carbondale households — could be down to one truck a week as soon as April.
In theory, a homeowner has the right to pay for another hauler in addition to whoever the HOA selects, but most are likely to go with the flow. In a recent survey of residents, 80 percent were in favor of the change, according to board President Jim Noyes. He believes the move will make pickup more efficient, less intrusive, help mitigate problems with wildlife and may even be cheaper.
“When it’s all said and done, this should be win-win for the homeowners,” Noyes said.
Right now, Mountain Refuse Inc. handles the majority of homes in RVR, indicating that a single hauler should be able to manage it. Seasonal residents will still be able to opt out while they’re away, and if it doesn’t work out, the contract is only two years long.
“My hope is that the program’s successful, and that it provides a possible protocol for balance in the town of Carbondale and the greater Roaring Fork Valley,” said Executive Director Ian Hause.
Carbondale government may indeed wait to see what happens in River Valley Ranch.
“The town should evaluate the potential benefits of establishing hauling districts, or going to a single hauler system to be guided by a competitive procurement system. Currently, River Valley Ranch is attempting to procure a single hauler system for its subdivision and the town will gain invaluable information about this process,” the Environmental Board wrote in a series of recommendations to Town Council.
The Environmental Board presented recommendations on Nov. 18, but trustees aren’t expected to take any action until after budget season.
Even then, they’re likely to move carefully. Municipal service was discontinued in the early ’90s and is considered too expensive.
The idea of a single hauler or assigned districts has come under fire in the past. When the topic was last discussed in April, MRI manager Don VanDevander and Intermountain co-owner Scott Eden showed up to object.
“I have 1,000 customers in Carbondale. My life savings is in my business. If you take my business away, I’ve got a problem,” said Eden.
“If you were to instantly take away our business that we’ve fought very hard to achieve, we will certainly take issue with it,” agreed VanDevander. He added that he doubted districts would work in a town Carbondale’s size, saying it was “all or nothing.”
“In my opinion, the residents of Carbondale are already getting the best service, the best price, and the best options,” he said.
Not everything the E-Board proposed is so controversial.
“I think there are things on this list that we can do without considering it a major overhaul of the ordinance,” said Trustee Allyn Harvey.
Those smaller steps might include making sure hauler permits are up to date and reviewed annually as required, considering a change to the $50 annual operating fee and potentially limiting new hauler permits. Trustees might also opt to limit pickup to a few days a week to mitigate issues with noise and animals.
The E-Board also recommended requiring animal-proof containers and sharing the cost among consumers, trash companies and the town, but Mayor Stacey Bernot thinks that’s the wrong approach.
“To me, it’s a private responsibility to make sure you take care of your refuse,” she said.
Bernot also expressed concerns about the idea of a “pay-as-you-throw” system, in which residents are charged based on volume instead of a flat fee. That could contribute to public dumping.
“If we go too fast too soon and people aren’t ready for it, we’re going to have major impacts on our neighbors,” said Bernot.
A volumetric approach has advantages, including encouraging recycling and composting, on which the town is particularly keen.
“If recycling could be free and composting could be free and trash was expensive, I think that would be wonderful,” said Trustee Katrina Byars.
There are even long term hopes that the town could ultimately become a zero-waste zone, with specific mandates to limit how much goes to the landfill.
“There’s no reason we shouldn’t strive for a zero-waste town,” said Trustee Alexander Hobbs.
It would take a lot of work. Right now, the town trash code lacks so much as a definition for compost. Education might help encourage composting without attracting wildlife, but industrial-scale composting service with pickup would likely be necessary for real change.
“It’s something that can be done,” Elisa Reindel of EverGreen Events said at the April meeting. “This is a program that’s been implemented throughout the nation. We’re not reinventing the wheel here.”
Recycling also comes down to infrastructure. The town hasn’t had much success with unmanned recycling facilities, but offers drop-off days throughout the year.
In the end, it all comes down to cost and the rights of trash hauling companies.
Ultimately, the trustees must ask themselves a simple question, Pam Zentmeyer said: “Are we here to protect the health, safety and environment of our community or allow the free market to flourish?”
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