The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly voted to raise the fee for solid waste disposal at a regular meeting Thursday, effective July 1. The fee for waste collection has increased from $355 per ton to $365 per ton for many categories of waste, including commercial garbage, construction/demolition debris, fishing gear and residential waste that exceeds the daily allotment of 260 pounds. 

The fee hike was introduced in response to a projected deficit of $198,000 in the landfill budget. Without the fee increase, the borough would be forced to rely on the fund balance to make up for the deficit.

“We have to stop dipping as a knee-jerk reaction to the fund balance,” said Assembly Member Dennis Symmons. “I definitely support the landfill sustaining itself. That is how it was set up and designed.”

Dave Conrad, director of engineering and facilities for the borough, acknowledged that a fee increase would be necessary in the coming years to cover foreseeable landfill expenses, such as purchasing a new waste baler. 

“We didn’t bring that forward to the budget process for the simple reason we were trying to give a little relief to the citizens,” Conrad said, explaining why the fee increase wasn’t recommended before the borough passed its budget last month.

However, Conrad noted that “it would probably be better and more palatable to raise rates at a lower percentage over a period of time.”

The motion to increase the fee passed 4 to 2, with Assembly Members Katie Kavanaugh and Rebecca Skinner voting against it.

The assembly also voted to reintroduce marine debris collection, which was banned at Kodiak’s landfill since a flood of marine debris raised concerns following the 2011 tsunami in Fukushima, Japan.

The cost for disposing of marine debris at the landfill will be $365 per ton for amounts above 10 cubic yards. Amounts below 10 cubic yards will be accepted at the landfill free of charge.

Kodiak Island Borough Mayor Dan Rohrer, who was a borough assembly member at the time the ban was introduced, stated Thursday that there had also been concern over marine debris being brought to Kodiak from other places.

“There was the tsunami situation but there was also the reality of these massive beach cleanups being done elsewhere,” Rohrer said. “Yes, we want to be responsible for the waste that’s here, but we don’t want people importing a bunch of waste to us just because it’s the path of least resistance and filling up our landfill with debris from elsewhere.”

Assembly Member Scott Smiley implored the borough to proactively address the growing problem of ocean waste.

“One of the biggest problems in the world today is the buildup of plastics,” he said. “We could easily have a deluge of this crap at our shores and if we don’t accept it at the landfill, where the heck are we going to put it? It’s wrong not to have a policy established for it.” 

Rohrer pointed out that if this policy change leads to an unsustainable increase in marine debris brought to the landfill, the decision can be reversed.

“A resolution can be changed in the course of a two-meeting series,” Rohrer  said. “If all of a sudden, we have people bringing us boatloads of marine debris, it can be discussed and dealt with at that time.”

Assembly members discussed concerns over how the fee may impact local nonprofits and school groups that organize beach cleanups. 

“They would certainly have the option to come back and ask for relief from that if they had a program,” Rohrer said, speaking of nonprofits that organize beach clean-ups.

According to Andy Schroeder, founder and director of the Kodiak Island Trails Network, disposing of marine debris is an expensive endeavor. ITN operates a NOAA-funded marine debris collection program to clean beaches in Kodiak and surrounding islands. Until now, all collected debris was stored on a lot near Buskin Lake until it could be shipped off the island, usually to recycling facilities.

“There are two dimensions to marine debris disposal. One is cost and one is ethics,” said Schroeder, who said he strives to recycle most of the debris collected on the island.

Schroeder stated that ITN would now send some marine debris to the landfill, focusing on debris that is difficult to recycle. 

“I appreciate the borough’s gesture there. It’s a recognition of marine debris as an issue,” he said.

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