Brooklyn Park roiled by garbage

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 14, 2011 - 8:55 AM

Haulers and libertarians unite to fight a change based on green and economic principles.

A debate over whether to change garbage service in Brooklyn Park boils down to competing philosophies, pitting the benefits of government expediency against the free market and consumers' rights to choose how to spend their money.

At issue is whether the city should continue its practice of "open" waste hauling, which allows residents to choose from a range of providers, or move to an "organized" system, in which the city would contract with a single hauler or a consortium that serves the city in whole or by district.

Right now, the city licenses nine haulers that compete for residents' business. Permit fees are based on how many trucks each company runs. Residents can make a choice based on price, service or other criteria.

Residents will have a chance to learn more about the issues and discuss concerns with their neighbors at a community gathering at 7 p.m. Monday, at Discover Church, 1400 81st Av. N. It's the third such meeting on the subject.

Members of the Brooklyn Park Citizens' Longterm Improvement Committee (CLIC) a volunteer advisory committee, began studying the issue in earnest two years ago because of concerns about the wear on city streets from multiple fleets of trucks and concerns about air pollution, safety and frugality.

Acknowledging that the current system allows for flexibility and freedom of choice, the committee told the council that an organized system would result in fewer heavy trucks on the street on a given trash day, reducing traffic, noise, fuel consumption, emissions and deterioration of pavement. The city also could seek contracts that expand on service with organics composting. The city already has an organized recycling program.

After a June CLIC recommendation to proceed, the Brooklyn Park City Council agreed to start the process of apprising the community and gauging public opinion.

A community gathering last Tuesday drew about 200 people; another on Thursday drew about 55. A poll of both groups found overwhelming opposition.

Opponents, including representatives of the haulers' professional association, note that road impacts have not been quantified and say that restricting residents' options will hurt businesses that already have invested in order to obtain contracts in the city.

Competition and the ability to grow are vital to the industry, said Mark Stoltman, general manager of Randy's Environmental Services and chairman of the Minnesota chapter of the National Solid Waste Management Association.

"Free enterprise allows us to grow, creates innovation and allows customers a variety of choices," he said, adding that his company and others have been willing to work with cities on issues such as truck weight and emissions.

Former CLIC Chairwoman Tonja West-Hafner said Friday that the committee reviewed its options and was excited by the range available.

"We thought things could be improved for the whole city," she said, adding that she had hoped people in the city would look at the big picture. "I'm not trying to tell people what to do. We looked at the bigger picture and saw there could be something better."

City Manager Jamie Verbrugge has been monitoring calls and e-mails coming in to staff and the council.

"It really is more of a philosophical issue -- at least for those who feel very strongly against it -- about the role of government," he said. "The folks who are very vocally opposed feel strongly that the government should not involve themselves in what they see as a free-market enterprise."

Brooklyn Park resident John Jordan, a former state representative who now writes a blog on Brooklyn Park affairs, said that for him the issue comes down to choice.

"At what point does the city get to choose who I use as a personal household vendor?" he asked. "I've heard all kinds of different twists on the idea, but in the end all of them take away your right as a citizen to make your choice. There is no problem here to fix."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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