By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter
FAIRWAY — Kansas lawmakers are kicking recycling off the curb.
The law, in summary, delays curbside recycling.
“It’s frustrating,” said Emporia City Manager Matt Zimmerman, who once hoped to offer curbside recycling to residents in early 2013. That won’t happen until at least 2014.
So take those cans and bottles elsewhere. Or, just pitch them.
Recycling in Lawrence would, by 2020, help cut by half trash shipments to the city landfill, said Kathy Richardson, the city’s Waste Reduction and Recycling Division operations manager.
But the new law has specific timetables for planning, public hearings, legal notices, and an 18-month transition period.
“The earliest we’ll be able to begin curbside recycling is June 11, 2014.” Richardson said. ”And if we miss a deadline along the way, we have to start over.”
Think of the law, Kansas House Bill 2195, as an insurance policy, of sorts.
The law was designed to help protect solid-waste companies’ investment in trash trucks, sorters, crushers and other specialized equipment should the local governments that hired them decide to terminate their contracts, and either run the service themselves or hire competitors. It spells out specific steps communities must take to inform residents and waste haulers when changes to waste-management contracts are planned, and it postpones the beginning of new plans until 18 months after the changes are approved.
The 18-month delay, in theory, gives waste companies time to sell garbage trucks and other specialized equipment without risking large financial losses.
The law amounts to a compromise between what waste management companies originally asked for — a two-year delay plus payments for lost business — and what opponents sought, which was easier access to all markets for all potential bidders, said state Rep. Steve Huebert, R -Valley Center; he chairs the House Local Government Committee.
“I’m a free-market guy, but this keeps cities from cutting off contracts and forcing the rest of us to find new trash haulers whether we want to or not.” Huebert said. “That happened to us in Valley Center, and I didn’t like it.”
Recycling notwithstanding, “this is really a ‘Wichita rule,’ ” said Bill Bider, Kansas’ director of waste management at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Kansas cities such as Wichita have several trash hauling companies competing for business, and tussles between established enterprises and entrepreneurs are commonplace, Bider said. The new rules also apply to trash haulers in any Kansas community large enough to have them, he said.
They “don’t protect anyone, they just establish a process for making changes,” Bider said.
Observers who followed HB 2195 through the Legislature last year say Topeka lobbyist Steve Kearney and other members of his firm, Kearney and Associates, first proposed specifics for the plan. The firm’s clients include Waste Management Inc., of Houston, one of the nation’s largest trash removal and environmental services firms. WMI is also a primary solid waste hauler in Wichita, Topeka and Junction City.
Kearney did not return telephone calls Monday or Tuesday, but WMI thinks the legislative action is appropriate, said a company spokeswoman in Minneapolis.
“We (the industry) have invested heavily in equipment designed to meet individual communities’ needs and, if the government takes over too quickly, we may not be able to get returns on those investments,” said Julie Ketchum, a WMI spokeswoman who helped lobby for the the bill as legislators debated it 14 months ago.
Important free-market considerations are involved, too, Ketchum said.
“We believe the process will allow the public to get involved and to choose whether they want private enterprise or the government to manage their solid-waste disposal,” she said.
Even with the new rules,” there are questions whether cities have an unfair advantage over local business owners,” said state Rep. Ann Mah, D-Topeka, and the House Local Government committee’s senior Democrat.
Cities, for example, have far more opportunity than small businesses to bundle money-losing waste management plans, such as recycling, with profitable ones, such as traditional trash pickup, Mah said.
“We need to be careful that government doesn’t drive businesses out of business,” she said.
It’s a Byzantine law, nevertheless.
City leaders first must pass a resolution announcing their intention to propose the change 180 days before they actually vote to make it, according to a Kansas Legislative Research Department official summary. They also are required to hold public hearings at least 30 days before that second vote and invite all solid-waste haulers in their city limits to the hearing.
Then they must wait 18 months before making applicable changes. The whole process, up to the 18-month waiting period, needs to be completed within one year of the first resolution or the whole thing starts from scratch.
The process is not a pretty sight, concedes Sandra Jacquot, general counsel for the League of Kansas Municipalities, a policy advocate for local governments in Topeka. League members have mixed feelings about the change, she said.
“We agree that there should be a process for making changes such as this,” Jacquot said, as there were none before.
“But we don’t think there should be a wait of that magnitude,” she said.
In Lawrence, even the haulers — who presumably will collect trash and recycling under the new system — don’t like the 18-month rule, said Richardson, the recycling division supervisor.
“They tell us it’s really hard to know that far ahead of time what your operating costs are going to be,” she said.