Curbside recycling may be dumped by Island County

Curbside recycling on Whidbey Island may get scrapped before ever having the chance to get started.

On Monday, the Island County commissioners agreed to revisit last month’s landmark decision to require Island Disposal, the county’s licensed garbage hauler, to roll out a curbside program for customers in Langley and rural parts of Whidbey Island sometime this year.

The decision was made in late December, following a discussion that spanned more than five years, during the last days of former Commissioner Angie Homola’s term. She and fellow Democrat Commissioner Helen Price Johnson approved the program in a 2-0 vote.

Republican Commissioner Kelly Emerson abstained at the time, but apparently wasn’t done with the issue. She brought it up again Monday, saying the matter may have been settled by a former majority but that she is still getting public comment from people who are against the program.

“There is a lot of concern out there,” she said, citing the cost of the program.

Her suggestion to revisit the issue at one of the board’s upcoming work sessions was quickly supported by Republican Commissioner Jill Johnson, who unseated Homola in the 2012 November election.

Johnson didn’t explain her reasoning at the time but said in a later interview that the “mandatory” aspects of the program are a major hiccup for her, especially when there is a “looming law and justice need.”

She made it clear that she isn’t against curbside recycling, but that times are tough and if people have to pay more for something it should be for more cops, not recycled milk jugs and pop cans.

“I’m not sure I’m willing to prioritize recycling over law enforcement,” Johnson said.

“At the very minimum, I want to have this conversation,” she said.

The approved curbside program is nearly identical to one pitched in 2007 and just as controversial. The major hurdles were that glass won’t be accepted and that the monthly cost — estimated at $11.60 or less — would be applied to all existing customers in Langley and rural parts of Whidbey Island.

There is nothing that forces people to remain or even become Island Disposal customers, but many complained that they couldn’t just have garbage pick up and continue to self-haul their recyclables.

Similarly, many griped about having to pay for a curbside program when they would still have to make a trip to nearby recycling centers to get rid of glass.

Although Price Johnson was a supporter of the program in December, there was little she could do against Monday’s majority of the board — something she hasn’t had to face since taking office in 2008.

Price Johnson, who is also the current chairwoman of the board, agreed to revisit the issue again but said she was unsure what legal options the commissioners really have to reverse the decision.

The board’s vote last month to require its licensed hauler to offer curbside service set events in motion. Island Disposal is to submit a proposal to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission for review. The regulatory agency must then make a determination before the program can be implemented.

Price Johnson rehashed many of the benefits of the program, from the possible savings customers may achieve by reducing trash output to the impact to county coffers by increasing overall recycling.

She also noted that not everyone is critical of the program, that many residents have been advocating for a curbside program for years.

“I just want to make sure people realize there are two sides to that,” Price Johnson said.

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