Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Residents concerned about recycling comment as Cities of Houghton, Hancock plan to vote for Solid Waste/Recycling contracts

By Michele Bourdieu

Local residents concerned about recycling filled the community room at Lakeview Manor in Hancock for the Joint Hancock and Houghton City Council Meeting on April 19, 2016. During the public comment period Peter Ekstrom (standing, center) of Houghton notes that improved recycling service would complement the existing bottle and can recycling. Seated in the foreground, left, is Jim Whittinghill, sales manager for Eagle Waste Recycling, Inc., of Eagle River, Wis. (Photos by Keweenaw Now)

HANCOCK, HOUGHTON -- Led by the efforts of the Copper Country Recycling Initiative (CCRI), residents have been attending recent local government meetings in Hancock and Houghton to comment on the need for improved residential and commercial recycling. Three solid waste/recycling companies have submitted bids for a contract with the City of Houghton and two of those companies have submitted bids to Hancock.

While the City of Hancock already provides its own curbside residential recycling and takes items to Waste Management, one of the bidders, participation is at the low rate of four percent. Houghton does not presently have curbside recycling but is including it in their Request for Proposal (RFP) for the new contract. Since Houghton's 5-year contract with Waste Management expires June 30, 2016, the Houghton City Council is expected to vote for one of the proposals at their meeting at 5:30 p.m. this Wednesday, May 11.

The other two companies submitting bids are Eagle Waste Recycling, Inc., of Eagle River, Wis., which submitted bids to both cities, and Great American Disposal of Marquette, which sent a bid proposal only to Houghton.

Hancock's contract with Waste Management expires at the end of August 2016. According to Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson, the Hancock City Council would probably make a decision in June or July. They are still working out financial details, he said.

Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson (standing, center) welcomes residents to the April 19, 2016, Joint Hancock and Houghton City Council Meeting.

CCRI leaders sent an email to residents Monday, May 9, asking that they attend coming meetings of both city councils to offer further citizen input.

"The bids are not exactly like comparing apples with apples," notes Suzanne Van Dam, CCRI co-chair. "There are some cost estimates that need to be researched. Encourage the council members not to rush the vote on which bid to accept. Ask that they wait until all facts are gathered and the costs are figured accurately -- including hidden costs."

Following the April 19 Joint City Council meeting, Alan Albee, left, Eagle Waste president, and Jim Whittinghill, Eagle Waste sales manager, second from left, chat with residents, from left, Chris Alquist, Richard Pallota, Suzanne Van Dam (seated) and Krissy Sundstrom about the company's recycling services.

Since the proposals from Eagle Waste are for a 10-year contract and could include use of the Houghton County Transfer Station (for storage), from which recylables would have to be hauled to Eagle River, Wis., at a cost to the cities, the choice of a proposal appears to be problematic. Under the present 5-year contracts, Waste Management hauls recylables to the Eagle Waste facility in Eagle River, but Waste Management is less inclusive in the types of items acceptable for recycling.*

The 10-year proposal by Eagle Waste would include required individual carts for both trash and recyling pick-ups and would accept for recycling such items as glass; tin and aluminum containers: no. 1 to no. 7 plastics; all miscellaneous paper including greyboard (cereal or beverage packaging); cartons including milk, juice, wine, etc.; small metal appliances; and small metal items such as pots and pans, utensils or pieces of pipe.

Eagle Waste operates its own Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Eagle River. They do not own a landfill. Trash would have to be taken to Waste Management or the County Transfer Station for further transport to a landfill at a cost to the cities.

"Our focus is to recycle, not to landfill waste," said Alan Albee, Eagle Waste president.

The company has recently set up recycling programs for both Ironwood and Bessemer, which appear to be successful.**

CCRI member David Hall speaks about Eagle Waste's Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Eagle River during a recycling presentation at the April 26, 2016, Lake Superior Celebration at Michigan Tech's Great Lakes Research Center. 

Local residents filled the community room at Lakeview Manor in Hancock for the April 19, 2016, Joint Hancock and Houghton City Council meeting in order to comment on the need for better recycling in both cities and beyond. The councils covered other business first to allow for plenty of public comment time at the end of the meeting. Here are some excerpts from those comments:

Evan McDonald, CCRI co-chair and member of the Houghton County Planning Commission, addresses Hancock and Houghton City Councilors:

During the April 19, 2016, Joint Hancock and Houghton City Council meeting, Evan McDonald, co-chair of the Copper Country Recycling Initiative and Houghton County Planning Commission member, comments on the need for both cities and nearby communities to work together on a joint recycling program to include curbside recycling and more. Click on YouTube icon for a larger view. (Videos by Keweenaw Now)

David Hall of Houghton:

CCRI member David Hall speaks about the need for Houghton County to be involved since recycling is a regional issue.

Hancock resident and CCRI member Susan Burack:

Susan Burack, member of the Copper Country Recycling Initiative and former Hancock city councilor, addresses the Joint Hancock and Houghton City Council at their Apr. 19, 2016, meeting.

Houghton residents Carol Ekstrom and Janeen Stephenson:

CCRI member Carol Ekstrom and Janeen Stephenson express their support for curbside recycling.

Michigan Tech student Will Lytle:

Michigan Tech graduate student Will Lytle says Michigan Tech students support improved community recycling.

Richard Pallota of Keweenaw County:

Richard Pallota of Keweenaw County comments on recycling efforts in Eagle Harbor and other locations north of Houghton County. 

Several residents, who said they had moved to the Copper Country from other states, noted they were surprised to find that Houghton had no curbside recycling.

After the meeting, a group of business owners chatted about their recycling needs under the current system.

Fifth and Elm Coffee House owners Frank Fiala, left, and Emily Fiala chat with Jan Cole, Keweenaw Chamber of Commerce vice president, and Kelly Etapa, Suomi Restaurant owner.

Kelly Etapa, owner of the Suomi Restaurant in Houghton, said he recycles large amounts of cardboard, plastic and tin cans by driving it in his truck up to the Waste Management transfer station, located at 1108 Enterprise Drive in Houghton.

"I'm hauling two truckoads a month -- probably 1500 lb. a month," he said. "In summertime it'll probably be more."

At present the City of Houghton does not provide commercial or residential recycling pickup. Some businesses have individual contracts for their recycling needs. Residents drive to the Waste Management site and pay $4 per vehicle to drop off single stream recycled items.

Proposals: Waste Management vs. Eagle Waste

In their proposals to both cities, Waste Management adds to the weekly garbage pickup and bi-weekly recycling pickup an option for weekly recycling pickup as well as an option for curbside cart service. At present the City of Hancock does its own curbside garbage and recycling pickup, but Waste Management is proposing new rates should Hancock decide to have Waste Management trucks do the pick-up service. Hancock also provides for businesses to drop off recycling at their Department of Public Works (DPW) site. Hancock then transports the recyclables to the Waste Management site, and Waste Management transports recyclables to Eagle Waste's facility in Eagle River, Wis.

The Eagle Waste proposals for both Houghton and Hancock are less detailed in terms of total cost, making it challenging to compare their bid to the others.
  • The Eagle Waste proposals are contingent on entering into a Solid Waste/Recycling Collection Services Agreement with both the Cities of Houghton and Hancock.
  • They are contingent on acceptance of the City's waste at either the County Transfer Station in Atlantic Mine or Waste Management's in Houghton. The proposal for each city states, "The City would pay the County or Waste Management directly for disposal of waste generated under the terms of a future Agreement between Eagle Waste and the City. It is anticipated that the Cities of Hancock and Houghton could negotiate reduced disposal rates with the County based on volume. The increased volumes could also assist the County in paying off debt associated with its facility."
  • The Eagle Waste proposals are also contingent on successful negotiation with the County to transfer SSR (Single Stream Recycling) to their MRF in Eagle River, Wis. The proposal for each city states, "The current disposal rate for SSR at our Eagle River MRF is $0.00/ton. Please note that recycling values and therefore our tipping rates change. Currently recycling values are low. For example, only last year, we were paying $20 per ton for recyclables dropped off at our facility. The cost to transfer the material will be the responsibility of the City. This may include a minor modification to the County Transfer Station to allow a storage area for SSR. Eagle Waste is willing to pay for required minor improvements if necessary."
During the April 26 Lake Superior Celebration at the Great Lakes Research Center, members of the Copper Country Recycling Initiative (CCRI) displayed this photo of the Houghton County Transfer Station in Atlantic Mine, noting the challenges to be met if it were to be used to store recycling for transfer to  Eagle Waste's MRF in Eagle River, Wis., a distance of about 100 miles.

Last week Keweenaw Now asked Houghton County Controller Eric Forsberg about the possibility of using the County Transfer Station as Eagle Waste proposes.

"We're not really set up for it right now," Forsberg said. "We're set up for cardboard, metal and oil."***

Forsberg said Eagle Waste did not involve the County directly in the bid process. He has talked to Eagle Waste's Alan Albee, but it hasn't gone beyond an initial discussion, Forsberg added.

"Houghton County had no contact with Eagle Waste before they submitted their proposal to Houghton and Hancock, so I'm unable to comment on what their thoughts were in putting that proposal together," Forsberg said. "We don't have the storage room right now to take in the anticipated volume of recyclables."

Houghton County Commissioner Anton Pintar also noted the County Transfer Station is not prepared to store recyclables from Houghton and Hancock.

"We would need an engineering study," Pintar told Keweenaw Now recently. "We don't have any idea how big the facility would have to be to store the recyclables."

Pintar said Houghton County is not set up to transport the recyclables from the County Transfer Station to Wisconsin.

"About three years ago I recommended to the (County) Planning Commission that we take on recycling as a project," Pintar added. "We're proceeding very slowly, starting with cardboard and then later asphalt shingles. Then the next step would be (composting) yard waste."

Pintar noted also that the County never intended to get into recycling plastics since that is done by Waste Management. He said he is not opposed to recycling but he doesn't think the County can make money on it at this time.

The cardboard recycling at the Transfer Station is the result of CCRI's receiving a $92,000 Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) grant, which has supported constructing the cardboard recycling facility at the Transfer Station, hiring a part-time recycling attendant and implementing the cardboard recycling program, creating a satellite drop-off center for the cardboard in Chassell Township (which provided a cash match for the grant) and launching public outreach -- including recycling education in area schools.

Houghton City Council takes more comments

On April 27, 2016, the Houghton City Council listened to more public comments on the recycling issue from CCRI members, Michigan Tech students and Houghton residents.

Houghton City Manager Eric Waara explained at that meeting that curbside recycling for Houghton residents was part of the City of Houghton's current Request for Proposals on Solid Waste/Recycling and would be included in the new contract. The challenge, he said, was to choose the proposal that would be the most affordable and sustainable for the City.

Three Michigan Tech students spoke to the Houghton City Council about a petition for which they had collected 500 signatures:

Michigan Tech environmental engineering students Ellen Aiken of St. Paul, Minn. (reading a statement), Meredith Brehob (foreground) of Dearborn, Mich., and Caitlin Korvela of Ishpeming, Mich., speaking on behalf of Michigan Tech students who live or will live off campus, tell the Houghton City Council that they and the students signing their petition support switching to a more sustainable waste/recycling company for a proposal to include curbside recycling. 

One of the students, Caitlin Korvela of Ishpeming, said she grew up in Florida.

"When I moved here I was very surprised there was no (curbside) recycling," Korvela said.

The students said they plan to submit the petition to the Houghton City Council.

In reply to the students' concerns, Houghton City Manager Eric Waara explains that curbside recycling is included in the City of Houghton's Request for Proposals (RFP) and that more study of the three proposals is needed. He affirms that the new contract will include curbside recycling and that the Council will discuss the proposals and vote at their May 11 meeting.

Evan McDonald of CCRI explained to the Houghton City Council that CCRI, with a goal of an expanded, regional recycling program, began their efforts with Houghton County and the Transfer Station (beginning with the cardboard recycling) and that Eagle Waste's proposal, while it has not yet been fully presented to the County, offers a potential new business model for the County Transfer Station, especially now that Houghton plans to have curbside recycling.

"If that can happen (both cities with curbside recycling) it's a huge kickstart to what had been the County's objective all along," McDonald said.

McDonald also noted that Eagle Waste's proposal has a potential for expanding recycling to a regional level, which coincides with the purpose of the DEQ grant and with CCRI's goals.

David Hall of CCRI spoke to the Houghton councilors of the need for including the local businesses in a recycling program. He gave as an example Marquette's recycling program, which includes businesses.

David Hall of CCRI thanks the Houghton City Council for their plans to have curbside recycling and reminds them of the need to make recycling accessible for businesses.

Houghton City Councilor Rachel Lankton expressed her concern about the difficulty of handling the large residential carts proposed by Eagle Waste -- especially in the winter:

Houghton City Councilor Rachel Lankton kicks off a brief discussion on aspects of a curbside program. Joining in the discussion are Houghton resident Brett Hamlin, Councilor Mike Needham, Evan McDonald and City Manager Eric Waara.

Eagle Waste meets with business owners

Business owners from Houghton and Hancock meet with Eagle Waste at Portage Lake District Library on May 2.

On May 2, 2016, Alan Albee and Jim Whittinghill of Eagle Waste listened to concerns of local business owners at the Portage Lake District Library.

During the May 2 meeting with business owners in Portage Library, Eagle Waste President Alan Albee replies to a question on options for recycling glass and ceramics.

Kelly Etapa, Suomi Restaurant owner, and Frank Fiala, owner of Fifth and Elm Coffee House, express concerns about recycling large volumes of cardboard and other items:

Kelly Etapa and Frank Fiala speak about the present challenges for businesses to recycle cardboard at the Houghton County Transfer Station, which charges a fee for businesses but not for residents.

Mary Kaminski, owner of the Copper Island Beach Club in Hancock, said she was happy that Hancock now allows businesses to bring recyclables to the Department of Public Works site.

Eagle Waste's Jim Whittinghill said it should be convenient for businesses to recycle. He urged the business owners to lobby for both residential and business recycling:

Jim Whittinghill, Eagle Waste sales manager, gives an example of a business that works with Eagle Waste to recycle 80 percent of its waste.

Following the meeting, Albee and Whittinghill invited business owners with specific questions to meet with them privately in the library.

Houghton City Manager Eric Waara met with Keweenaw Now following the business meeting in the Portage Library and spoke about the challenges of choosing a proposal for the new Waste/Recycling contract.

"For a remote area like ours hauling of any material is more expensive than in a city," Waara said.

He said the biggest impediment for this area is the cost of getting material to a recycling site. In the case of the Eagle Waste proposal, the cities of Houghton and Hancock would have to pay for the transport of recyclables to Eagle River, Wis.

In the case of Great American Disposal's proposal to Houghton, the hauling cost appears to be included in the total cost. Waara noted this company offers several options, but comparing it to the other two requires doing the math to determine the real costs.****

"We're considering them all, but at the end of the day, when you do the math there wasn't enough information (from Eagle Waste) to make a fair comparison," Waara said. "Part of sustainability is affordability. You can get anything you want if you're willing to pay for it."

According to Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson, Great American Disposal did not submit a proposal to Hancock, so the decision for Hancock will be a choice from two proposals. The problem is that Eagle Waste's proposal lacks certain details, such as where they would take the material once they pick it up.

"It's logistically deficient," Anderson said of Eagle Waste's proposal.


* Click here for Waste Management's Recycling Guidelines.

** Click here to read about Bessemer's trash/recycling contract with Eagle Waste. Learn more about Eagle Waste Recycling, Inc., on their Web site.

*** Visit the  Houghton County's Transfer Station Web page to learn what they accept for trash disposal and recycling. Click here for the Copper Country Recycling Initiative (CCRI) Web site.

**** Great American Disposal has several sites, most of which are at a considerable distance from Houghton. Click here to learn about them.

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