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City to require bear-resistant containers for all residents

by JULIE ENGLER
whitefish pilot | May 11, 2022 1:00 AM

The City of Whitefish has decided to implement animal-resistant trash containers for all residents and businesses within city limits — and with that comes a rate hike.

Whitefish residents will slowly transition to using animal-resistant trash containers over the next few months. The new contract between the city and Republic Services means customers will now have individual 95-gallon bear-resistant containers picked up curbside and will see their garbage rates increase by $5.97 a month. Annually that comes to an increase of about $72.

Council approved the contract with Republic Services at its regular meeting on May 2.

In early March council held a work session to discuss the possibility of a mandatory bear-resistant container program for all residential garbage services. The matter was then put on the agenda for May 2, and the city signed an amended agreement with Republic Services. The transition to the new containers is expected to be completed by the end of August 2022, in time for heightened bear activity in the fall.

According to the staff report, the amended contract with Republic Services will increase the cost to the city by about $282,500 in the first year for an estimated 3,949 residential accounts. The city needs to pass the increased cost to residents, hence the increase in garbage rates of over $5 a month.

Chad Bauer from Republic Services spoke at the council meeting and gently urged council to move quickly on the current rate for the new containers as it is likely to go up in the near future.

“The cost of these bear-resistant containers is increasing every day,” Bauer said. “Supply is very limited and demand is very high for them all across the United States.”

Individuals are not responsible for buying bear-resistant containers. The contract says Republic Services will provide all residential locations with a single 95-gallon bear-resistant container to be serviced at the curb.

According to the staff report, customers will need to roll the container to the curb on pick-up day rather than use the alleyways due to logistics and the limitations of the alleys.

During public comment, bear specialist Erik Wenum with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks clarified a remark made by a citizen who had said there were only 19 bear-human incidents last year. Wenum said there were actually 19 different bears identified in Whitefish and there were multiple hundreds of incidents last year.

“Four nights ago, we had a radio-collared grizzly bear walk down Fifth Avenue, so this is a real deal,” Wenum said. “We’ve talked with the city attorney at length about liabilities and when you look at some of the settlements that have happened throughout the country which were (over) $17 million, I think that would be $5 a month well spent.”

While residents will not be required to keep the new bear-resistant containers in a garage, they do need to pull them away from the right-of-way on the day of service. Public Works Director Craig Workman said the city may need to consider making the alternate-side parking standards a year-round requirement to accommodate the individual containers in the city’s right-of-way.

Bauer told the council the containers are user-friendly because the lids are not as heavy as previous models and they have a slide lock that is simple to use. He also explained that if the bins are damaged, it is Republic Services’ responsibility to replace them.

There were some concerns voiced by council and the public about seniors or those with limitations being unable to roll the trash container to the road on the day of service. Additional concerns centered around the fee increase.

Councilor Giuseppe Caltabiano said many citizens voiced their concerns to him regarding both of those issues, and he would personally be helping a few senior citizens and also offered to pay the first year of the fee increase for 10 people.

“I voted with mixed feelings about the bear-resistant ordinance and I feel really not well about the people who have expressed their concerns to me…” he said.

According to City Manager Dana Smith, the city is waiting on confirmation from Republic Services about when the containers will be delivered from the manufacturer. The city will then make a plan for exchanging the containers.