Bloomington’s adoption of its new organized garbage collection system has been bumpier than the city would have hoped.
In starting organized collection Oct. 3, Bloomington joined St. Louis Park, St. Anthony and other suburban communities where the city regulates residential trash, recycling and yard waste pickup rather than leaving it to private haulers.
But some residents long have opposed the city taking the reins of what has been a private industry. That drama is not over yet, as the city tackles yet another lawsuit raised by citizens who want the issue of how trash is collected placed on the ballot.
Bloomington now coordinates garbage collection by a consortium of six licensed haulers, which follow updated routes and schedules. Starting next week, the city will charge residents for the service in their water bills every other month.
“This has been sort of the trend for most municipalities, and it’s mostly for efficiency purposes,” said Jennifer Nguyen Moore, project coordinator for Bloomington Public Works. She said she expects organized hauling to reduce noise, road wear and safety hazards on the street.
Haulers exchanged more than 21,000 waste carts in the weeks leading up to organized collection, a laborious process that led concerned homeowners to call the city and ask if and when their bins would be switched.
“I think in hindsight we hope it would’ve gone a little smoother,” City Council Member Kim Vlaisavljevich said. “Hopefully now that we crossed the hurdle … we’ll start seeing the program smooth out quite a bit.”
As haulers work out their new routes, the biggest concern surrounding the program remains opposition by a group of residents.
The group, which has raised several challenges against organized collection for more than a year, brought forward a second lawsuit after the City Council this summer said it would be “manifestly unconstitutional” to amend the city’s charter.
“They’re turning an industry upside down in changing our ability to contract who we want to contract with,” said plaintiff William Reichert, who has lived in Bloomington for almost 60 years. “You’re giving up your freedom of choice by letting the city do this.”
Some residents, such as Reichert, have chosen to take trash disposal into their own hands. A city committee has so far reviewed 140 applications from homeowners who want to opt out of organized hauling, Nguyen Moore said.
A judge heard arguments from both sides on Monday, and a ruling is expected by January.
Shelley Ryan, an attorney representing the city, said the suit could block trash pickup and the city’s five-year contract with the consortium.
“If [the plaintiffs] were to succeed, that contract would be terminated, the process would essentially halt, causing disruption to the city,” Ryan said. “It’s always serious when ... cities are sued, especially by [their] own residents.”
But for the plaintiffs, the issue is about more than just organized trash collection.
“This opens up Pandora’s box when you allow them to create a template ... that allows the city to do this with other private industries,” said plaintiff Joel Jennissen, who has lived in Bloomington for about 16 years.
Vlaisavljevich said she understands there are residents who prefer to choose their own hauler. She said she wants to relieve the fears of those who feel that Bloomington is operating under a hidden agenda.
“You need to trust that the elected officials will act in the best interest of the residents,” Vlaisavljevich said.