The great recycling debate

Image credit: Los Angeles Times/MCT

In a move that left some Grand Forks City Council members shocked and others smiling, Mayor Mike Brown cast a tie-breaker vote Monday against the proposed expansion of the city’s recycling program.

“Why spend $2.4 million when it’s working just fine,” Brown said of the current system.

The expansion was part of a proposed six-year contract with firm Waste Management. Its price tag would have included the program’s current costs plus money for new recycling bins, alley pickup service, new trucks to collect recyclables and other various costs for the contract’s term.

Council member Tyrone Grandstrand felt the decision went against residents’ wishes.

“What you did tonight was shameful,” Grandstrand said to Brown during council comments. “You knew what a majority of people who came here wanted.”

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To many, Monday night’s vote was an unexpected development in the months-long battle that has been waged over recycling.The expansion received the thumbs up in June and all that was left to do was approve a contract.

And that contract had the most unlikely of council members working with city staff to make the program’s expansion as smooth as possible.

City staff said council member Terry Bjerke was instrumental in getting behind-the-scenes work done on the expansion. That may come as a surprise as Bjerke is an avid opponent of the recycling program and voted no on both the expansion and contract.

In the end, he seemed pleased with the work done on the contract despite it being for a program he doesn’t use.

“This is probably going to sound sarcastic, but this is an efficient waste of money,” he said of the expansion.

In June, the expansion passed 5-2 but the absence of one council member and the dissatisfaction of another led to the program’s rejection.

The switch-hitter of the group, council member Doug Christensen was not happy to see a decrease in marketing money for the program and the city choosing container sizes rather than letting residents pick.

The absence of council member Ken Vein, who voted in favor of the expansion in June, also dealt a blow to the pro-expansion side.

In the end, Public Works Director Todd Feland doesn’t see the result as a defeat.

Before the expansion was approved, the city also bid the cost of maintaining the program as is. That means it does have plans and costs estimates to move forward with and doesn’t have to start the whole process from scratch.

A new contract would likely be brought to the council’s Service and Safety Committee in the coming months. The city’s current contract with Waste Management ends Dec.31 this year.

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