The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly voted to advance an ordinance that would impact code enforcement, during a contentious meeting that went until 11 p.m. Thursday night.
A public hearing on the ordinance will be held during the next assembly meeting, scheduled for Feb. 20. Following the public hearing, the assembly will vote on the ordinance, which has been in the works for months.
The vote on advancing the ordinance to a public hearing passed 6-1. Assembly Member Julie Kavanaugh was the only one to vote against it.
If it passes the final vote, the ordinance would enable the borough to collect fines for code infractions for the first time, through a Uniform Table of Minor Offences, or UMOT, a state mechanism by which the borough and city can issue fines for individuals who violate borough and city codes. While the city of Kodiak already has an extensive UMOT in place, the borough has failed thus far to vote one into the code. Currently, if the borough wants to enforce its code, it has to take violators to court, a lengthy and costly process that is seldom used.
The types of infractions on the borough’s proposed table for fine collection represent only a fraction of the total number of infractions in the borough code, according to Borough Manager Michael Powers. If the ordinance passes, the borough would be allowed to issue fines only for specific infractions relating to animal control, solid waste storage and set-out, junk vehicles and obstruction of borough rights-of-way. Violations of any other borough codes, including violations of zoning regulations and misuse of fireworks, could be penalized only if the borough takes the offender to court.
In addition to implementing UMOT, the ordinance discussed on Thursday would amend and add to certain sections of the borough code, clarifying some existing regulations and adding new requirements.
The ordinance would add a requirement that all users must latch the door of the roll cart or dumpster after use; a prohibition on discarding waste outside of roll carts and dumpsters; a prohibition on parking on borough-owned streets for more than 24 consecutive hours; and a prohibition on placing debris and snow in borough-owned streets and ditches.
During declared natural disasters, extreme weather events or when a vehicle is impeding necessary public services, borough officials would be allowed to tow a vehicle from a borough-owned street without notifying the owner, at the owner’s expense.
Even if the ordinance passes the final vote, it may take a while before fines are issued in Kodiak. No current borough staff members have completed the required training to become code enforcement officers. It will likely take a few weeks or months until an officer is hired and trained for the position.
Powers said the success of code enforcement will depend on hiring an officer with the right temperament.
“Code enforcement works 80% of the time by cajoling them into compliance, just like a police officer can get you to slow down just by lighting up and saying, ‘Sir, you went too fast for that school zone,’” he said.
Before advancing the ordinance, assembly members voted on three different amendments. All three amendments passed 5-2, with assembly members Kavanaugh and Rebecca Skinner voting against them. The amendments clarified language relating to waste disposal and obstruction of rights-of-way.
More than 20 Kodiak residents testified during the public comments section of the meeting, many bemoaning trash collection issues which they say have caused the number of bears within town limits to increase significantly. Law enforcement killed three bears in the span of five days last month, eliciting public outcry about trash management in residential areas.
“If you respect the bears, they will respect you,” said bear biologist and longtime Kodiak resident Larry Van Daele. “If you respect an animal, that means you take the time to learn about it … It really is the wisdom of the elders. What I think is going on here recently is we’ve broken that cycle. We’re not acting consistently with the bears anymore. A lot of people in town aren’t learning about how to live with them.”
Kodiak resident Robert Tucker called on law enforcement to “finish the job” by killing remaining bears that frequent residential neighborhoods. Even after law enforcement killed three bears at the Selief dumpster, residents continued to report bear sightings on Selief and nearby streets on a daily basis.
“There are still bears opening car doors and getting into trash on residential properties. These bears are not going to change. I hate it, but it’s true. Maybe if we implement some changes now and clean up our act, then no other bears will have to die next year or the year after because of our bear issues,” Tucker said.
Some residents said that if the borough doesn’t take action soon, a human death at the hands of a bear is inevitable.
“It’s just a matter of time before there is a human-bear interaction, and it’s going to be very tragic,” said Fred Roberts. “That holds some legal implications for the borough.”
While some residents said the solution to the bear problem could come from better enforcement of trash disposal regulations, others said that the increase in bear activity in town is the result of a growth in Kodiak’s bear population, calling on the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to release figures on the island’s bear population surveys. Recent estimates suggest there are around 3,000 bears in Kodiak.
Some residents suggested improper trash disposal could be the result of poor waste management on the part of Alaska Waste, the company contracted by the borough to oversee waste removal on the island.
“It seems that the dumpsters are routinely full,” said Rachel Jermann, noting that some people leave trash outside of the dumpsters when they are too full.
In a response from David Edwards, Alaska Waste Kodiak site manager, he said that the dumpsters are routinely checked Monday through Saturday, and are emptied as needed.
“As far as the issue of them overflowing — we rarely find them in that situation. If we do, we empty them immediately and pick up all surrounding trash that is around the dumpsters. The reason why some would say the dumpsters are full is because the doors closest to the road give the appearance they are full, but in actuality, there is room in the back side of the dumpster,” Edwards wrote in an email.
In another comment, a Kodiak resident said not all dumpsters are equipped with bear-proof latches. In response, Edwards said that all roll-out dumpsters are equipped with bear proof latches. There are 24 front-load dumpsters in Kodiak, of which 20 have been retrofitted to be bear resistant.
“If we notice they are broken or not working properly, they are repaired as soon as possible,” he wrote. “Alaska Waste has worked closely with the Kodiak Island Borough to upgrade all the commercial front load dumpsters in the bear problem areas, with bear resistant lids.”
While most members of the public suggested that stricter borough code enforcement could begin to address bear activity in town, some Kodiak residents said that the proposed code enforcement regulation could embolden borough staff to police residential neighborhoods.
“With the formation of a new system, I’m afraid that it won’t stay a complaint-driven operation,” said Michael Nelson. “We will have people going out, going to your property looking for things to fine you for.”
Nelson also said he was concerned about the cost of the new system to the taxpayers. The borough employed a code enforcement officer until July, when he retired and was not replaced. However, Nelson pointed out the ordinance may require hiring more than one code enforcement officer.
“I feel that we are opening Pandora’s Box, leading to fines for more menial offenses,” he said.