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Great Lakes Article:

Possible fee boost may hurt recycling
Lawmakers look at landfill surcharge
By Ryan Werbeck
Times Herald

Blue plastic bins with empty cans, unwanted papers and used plastic containers line many Port Huron streets every week.

Jill Hurley, 29, dutifully fills hers without fail.

She has been recycling since moving to her home on Wall Street five years ago. Doing so helps protect the environment and future for her children, she said.

"I think it's very important," she said. "My kids won't have a place to do anything or trees to play on."

Under a bill being considered by state legislators, recycling programs such as Port Huron's and others in the area could see a boost in funding through a surcharge landfills would pay the state for every ton of waste left at their facility.

While lauded as a good idea, local officials see the move as unfair and potentially deadly to some recycling efforts.

"Ultimately, the customers are going to pay," said Larry O'Keefe, manager of the St. Clair County Landfill in Smiths Creek. It is the county's only landfill.

"It's like a gas tax on farmers," he said. "They deliver their wheat, but it costs more, so the price of wheat goes up."

The bill pending in the Legislature calls for a $3 per ton surcharge on solid waste from residential and commercial areas. A majority of that money then would be redistributed to local governments to help pay for recycling programs.

"People within the state who have to pay the surcharge should feel better that the money will go back to the communities," said Margaret Schulte, legislative director for Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, who sponsored the bill.

How the money would be distributed is among the sticking points legislators are trying to iron out in the bill, which is stalled in committee.

The benefit

Aside from promoting recycling, the bill is seen as a way of curbing out-of-state trash, a hot-button issue because the state is unable directly to ban hundreds of trash trucks coming from Canada each day bound for Michigan landfills.

Most of these trucks cross at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron.

Both of those goals appeal to David Trendell, owner of Anchor Recycling Inc. in Port Huron Township.

"We're doing our damnedest to keep things out of our landfills, and they're bringing everything over," he said. "I think (the bill) would encourage recycling."

Michigan needs encouraging when it comes to recycling.

The state has a 20% recycling rate. Other Great Lakes states average 26%, the Michigan Recycling Coalition said.

Money from the surcharge could boost that rate.

Cities, townships and villages operate 493 recycling programs, a majority of those in the state.

Port Huron's program has been around for about eight years.

State officials said the surcharge contained in the proposed bill would generate between $41 million and $51 million annually.

Not popular

The reasons behind the bill don't apply to St. Clair County, leading some to dispute its purpose.

"Right now, St. Clair County doesn't take any waste from Canada," O'Keefe said. "We're raising (fees) on St. Clair County residents and businesses to discourage waste that doesn't come here."

Charlie Kaplan, owner of Marcotte Disposal Co., calls the surcharge another tax.

Kaplan's company collects recyclables for Port Huron Township and also has operations in Canada.

Imposing a surcharge that likely would be passed on to haulers and then residents or businesses doesn't make sense, he said.

"If companies picking it up can't make money, then what's the point," he said. "(A surcharge) doesn't do anything."

Port Huron City Engineer Robert Clegg also is opposed to the idea, saying it is a disincentive to recycle.

"If you've done the right thing and implemented a recycling program, you'll be penalized by the state," he said.

Schulte said that isn't the case.

"Some communities say if they have to bear the burden of this surcharge, it will make it difficult for them," she said. "But the money will come back to them."

The Michigan Municipal League has been vocal in its opposition, citing dangers to existing recycling programs.

"What our concern is when we have tough budget times and cities can look and see the state has a $55 million recycling program, it gives them a way to drop programs," said Joe Fivas, the league's manager of Transportation and Environmental Affairs.

"We think recycling programs will already suffer because of budget cuts."

Losing recycling opportunities likely will mean Hurley's recycling would decrease, she said.

"The convenience of it now is what makes it easier," she said.

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