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Curbside recycling reversal remains a possibility in Island County

Reversing a decision to start curbside recycling service in Langley and rural parts of Whidbey Island is not impossible nor should it present any legal hurdles, county and state officials have confirmed.

In fact, it should be a relatively simple matter, according to Bill Oakes, director of Island County Public Works. All that’s required is that the commissioners hold a public hearing and vote to repeal the new ordinance.

“It’s finalized and in motion but just like they created it, they can take code off the books,” Oakes said.

“I don’t think there is anything that can’t be defused at this point,” he said.

On Monday, the board agreed to revisit its December decision to adopt an ordinance requiring Island Disposal, the county’s franchised garbage hauler, to begin a curbside recycling service.

It was unclear at the time, however, whether the board would be able to easily rescind the decision because the code change set in motion a series of events.

The ordinance tasked Island Disposal with submitting a proposal to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission for review. As the regulatory agency for the state, the commission has oversight over the hauler’s rates.

The process can be lengthy and include a period for public comment or appeal and temporary implementation of the service to help verify appropriate rates before final approval is granted.

Island Disposal officials estimate that the program wouldn’t actually roll out until late this year.

But like Oakes, officials with the commission said they aren’t aware of anything in the process that would hinder the board from flip-flopping on the earlier decision as the state agency’s authority is over Island Disposal, not the commissioners.

“The commission regulates the hauler, it doesn’t regulate the county,” said Gene Eckhardt, assistant director of Solid Waste and Transportation, Regulatory Services Division.

According to Oakes, things might be different if the board was waffling seven or eight months after the initial decision. At that point, Island Disposal would likely have made large capital investments, which would have created an issue of liability.

Attempts to reach Kent Kovalenko, district manager for Island Disposal’s parent company, Waste Connections, were unsuccessful for this story.

The curbside ordinance was adopted after years of discussion and debate. The first plan was unveiled in 2007 and, despite the delay, nearly identical to the program approved last month.

It was adopted in the last days of former Commissioner Angie Homola’s first and only term by her and fellow Democrat and board chairwoman, Commissioner Helen Price Johnson.

Tea Party-Republican Commissioner Kelly Emerson abstained from the vote but said Monday she wanted to revisit the issue because complaints from the public are still coming in.

While she cited the additional cost to customers — estimated at $11.60 or lower each month — the major gripes from the public have been centered on the fact that glass isn’t included and because it’s mandatory for customers with trash service.

Emerson’s proposal was quickly seconded by Republican Jill Johnson, who replaced Homola. She later called the December vote a “legacy decision” by her predecessor and questioned its priority over other existing needs, such as a discussion at the county courthouse that’s going on simultaneously about a possible law and justice tax.

Reaction from the public has been mixed. Champions for curbside recycling are disheartened that a victory so long in the making might be now lost while program critics are praising the board for doing the right thing.

“Yeah, I’m disappointed,” said Cathy d’Almeida, a Central Whidbey resident and advocate for curbside. “There is just so much time and energy that’s been put into this.”

D’Almeida said she understands the arguments against the mandatory aspects of the program but says that it’s necessary to keep costs down and, more importantly, to make the program more effective.

Conversely, Clinton resident Jean Wilcox is applauding the board’s decision to revisit the issue. A mandatory program is unfair and it’s silly to adopt a service that doesn’t include glass, she said.

“I commend the commissioners for looking at it again — please reject it,” Wilcox said.

But it’s not over yet. The board’s decision earlier this week was simply to discuss the program again at the commissioners’ next work session. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. Feb. 6, and will be held in the commissioners hearing room, 1 N.E. Sixth St. in Coupeville.

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