Future of recycling discussed by board

From left, Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority Board Trustee Carr Baldwin, MCSWMA Board Treasurer Amy Manning and board Chairman Randy Yelle discuss the future of single-stream and glass recycling in Marquette County during a board meeting Wednesday. The board reviewed several options to help fund the proposed transition to single-stream and glass recycling and opted to table the discussion until authority officials have a chance to meet with and get input from constituent municipalities. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority Board of Trustees went back to the drawing board at Wednesday’s meeting to find a way to fund the authority’s proposed single-stream and glass recycling program.

The board unanimously passed a motion to table the decision on several proposed options until Brad Austin, director of operations at the authority, has a chance to further discuss the options with the authority’s 22 constituent municipalities. The authority aims to make a decision at its May 22 meeting based on this input, officials said.

The authority motion stems from the Marquette County Board of Commissioners’ decision Tuesday that the county board does not have the legal authority to place the proposed recycling millage requested by the authority on the Aug. 6 ballot.

“Our legal staff said that they (the county) have the authority to support us on the millage but the county at the meeting last night, their legal staff said that they do not have that authority,” authority board Chairman Randy Yelle said.

The authority oversees the Marquette County Landfill, which serves residents of the county’s municipalities. It does not currently recycle glass and uses a dual-stream recycling system that requires rigid and fiber materials to be separated and picked up on alternating weeks.

The proposed single-stream system — which the authority initially aimed to be partially supported with the millage — would allow both material types to be picked up weekly, as well as glass, officials said previously.

Yelle presented three potential courses of action for the board and its constituents to consider in terms of funding single-stream and glass recycling:

≤ Going to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to get an opinion on the legality of the county placing the millage on the ballot due to the differing legal opinions.

≤ Requesting the county board use Sec. 8 of the Urban Cooperation Act — which gives a county board the authority to impose a surcharge of not more than $2 a month or $25 annually — to add a fee of $9 a year per household to support the program.

≤ Or increasing solid waste tipping fees by $6 a ton.

Board members and the authority’s legal counsel, Bill Nordeen, discussed the benefits and drawbacks of each proposed option.

An opinion from the attorney general could take 60 to 90 days, and even if the attorney general agreed the county has the legal authority, it still doesn’t guarantee the county board would approve the millage, officials said. Requesting the county board authorize use of the Urban Cooperation Act is another option, they said, noting it would still hinge upon board approval.

Trustees also discussed the increased tipping fee option. While it may involve the fewest hurdles for the authority, it also comes with important considerations for haulers and the authority’s constituent municipalities, which would need to have substantial advanced notice should tipping fees increase, officials said.

Austin emphasized that the time-sensitive nature of the project and funding would make it important to resolve the matter quickly due to funding and equipment decisions the board plans to make by early summer.

“I just don’t feel that this will ever get any cheaper if we’re going to try to do this,” Austin said.

The authority is on the path to receive a $3 million no-interest loan from the Closed Loop Fund, a privately backed financing group, as well as a $1 million grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to help fund the equipment needed for the $5.9 million project, Austin said.

Trustees said they would need to gather funds — either through the proposed millage, an increased tipping fee or the Urban Cooperation Act — to ensure they will be able to make payments on the $3 million no-interest loan, which would be due starting in July.

The move to single-stream recycling and glass recycling is important for extending the life of the landfill, Austin said.

“It was illustrated very clearly that when this facility closes, where are we going? And the likelihood of another facility, where are we going to put solid waste? And if you have to put it in a truck and haul it to Wisconsin, what will the cost of that be?” Austin said. “So that has somewhat gotten lost in these discussions as we’ve gotten closer, because, of course, now we’re talking about real money.”

Trustees also emphasized that the authority, should it adopt single-stream recycling and glass, could become a regional recycling center. If the authority proceeds with the transition, attracting more tonnage from out of county will be critical to the program’s viability, officials said.

The new system would also allow the landfill to attract commercial single-stream recycling, which is currently sent to regional facilities outside of the county.

Attracting more tonnage from these sources will be important, Yelle said previously, because “recycling needs volume in order to be self-supporting.”

Furthermore, single-stream and glass recycling could increase recycling participation in Marquette County, officials said previously, as only 8 percent of the county currently recycles, but over half of those surveyed indicated they would support the millage and begin recycling if it became a single-stream system.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.