August 21, 2014

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Lorain vote may get trashed

EPA may require ‘pay as you throw` anyway

LORAIN – City Council might not have the final say on the controversial “pay as you throw” trash plan after all.

Even if Council rejects the plan, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency could still impose it on the county.

The agency considers “pay as you throw” – which would use a cart system or tags on garbage bags to limit the amount of trash residents can throw away in a given week – the best option for increasing recycling in the state, said Michelle Kenton, the EPA environmental specialist responsible for Lorain County.

“With ‘pay as you throw,` there`s a great incentive to recycle,” she said, adding that the EPA wants the recycling rate in Lorain County to increase to 25 percent from about 10 percent now.

The plan has come under fire in Lorain, where many Council members fear they are being forced to accept it despite their reservations about whether it`s actually good for the city.

On Monday, the Council rejected the program – jeopardizing its implementation throughout the county because Lorain, as the largest city, was required to sign on. But the Council may reconsider – it was to meet Wednesday night, but not enough members attended to take another vote.

“I`m concerned that we`re getting cornered into something we have no control over. They`re touting this as a plan of choice, but we`re not getting much choice in this,” said Councilman Tony Krasienko, D-at large.

Krasienko, who will take over as mayor in January after his election Tuesday, said he is concerned that Allied Waste, which handles trash collection for nearly every community in the county and strongly backs the plan, will continue to raise rates despite the plan`s adoption.

Allied officials have said that there will be increases in the short term under “pay as you throw,” but the plan will keep costs down over the long haul.

Earlier this year, the county`s Solid Waste Policy Committee gave Lorain an alternative after city officials expressed concerns about “pay as you throw.” That alternative is picking 900 households for a pilot recycling program – allowing the city to collect $250,000 in grants a year aimed at boosting recycling rates.

The money comes from tipping fees charged at the landfill in New Russia Township.

Should the pilot program bomb, the city can do away with it and still receive $225,000 in grants annually – exactly what it gets now, but without the requirement that the city match the grant money.

“We still never got a complete answer on everything. It`s still a little fuzzy,” Krasienko said.

Council has until Nov. 28 to change its mind on the plan, Lorain Law Director Mark Provenza said.

Kenton said the drop-dead deadline for the county to forward a plan to the EPA is Dec. 5 at 5 p.m., but even after that it would at least be willing to look at something the county forwarded to it. But once the Dec. 5 deadline passes, she said, the EPA gains the authority to impose its will on Lorain County.

That might not be a bad thing if proponents of the plan fail to convince Council to approve the plan – something that communities representing 59.3 percent of the county`s population have already done – county Commissioner Betty Blair said.

But she still hopes Lorain will see the need for the plan to be imposed.

“I think it`s better if we, locally, say what we want, rather than have someone at the next level tell us what we`re going to do,” she said.

Blair and Commissioner Ted Kalo voted to approve the plan Wednesday over the objections of Commissioner Lori Kokoski, who voted against it.

Kokoski said she questions whether the plan is designed to help recycling or help Allied Waste, which will save money on work-related injuries and by cutting the crews of its garbage trucks from two workers to one. The cost is also likely to go up, she said.

“It will make life easier for Allied and it`s going to be on the backs of the community, that`s what I`m concerned about,” she said.

Dan Billman, director of the Lorain County Solid Waste Management District, said while Allied has been a strong supporter of the plan, “pay as you throw” wasn`t designed to benefit the company. And he said any community is free to hire another company to collect trash.

Billman said he doubts that the EPA would impose the “pay as you throw” concept on the county. Instead, he believes they might keep the current arrangement in place in which the Solid Waste District provides money to communities to bolster blue bag and other recycling measures.

Kevin Shoemaker, another EPA environmental specialist who has worked on plans in other districts that haven`t adopted their own plan, said the EPA has never imposed a “pay as you throw” plan on another district, but those lack the funding that Lorain County enjoys because of the presence of a landfill and the fees that Allied must pay the county to dump waste there.

But, he said, “pay as you throw” is a good option that advances the EPA`s goals.

“The bottom line is we want to see landfills not being filled up so quickly and more things being diverted and recycled,” Shoemaker said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com. Contact Adam Wright at 653-6257 or awright@chroniclet.com.