County Considers Cutting Waste Services

By Beacon Staff

The Flathead County solid waste district is planning to close the Marion green-box site in favor of a new, larger Kila collection area. It’s a move that has some Marion residents upset and could be the first of several consolidations for county waste sites.

At its Feb. 26 meeting, the district’s board approved budget plans for a new $283,900 Kila site. The current Kila trash site on Kila Road would be closed and the new one opened nearby on county right-of-way property. The new site would have a larger trash capacity and improved features, including larger fences with security slats, controlled hours and an overall improved look. Plans are uncertain, but the department hopes to make the switch next fall.

Several Marion residents say it’s a step in the wrong direction for a growing area, and will only increase littering.

“They’re wrong if they think people will drive all the way to the Kila site; it’ll just go in the ditches or on Plum Creek land or in a pit on their property,” Tina Miller, owner of the Marion Mercantile and Hardware Store, said. “Refrigerator? Not a problem; it’ll get thrown up on Plum Creek land somewhere, not taken to Kila.”

Marion may be the first of several sites throughout the county to close or be folded into other existing sites, public works director David Prunty said. “We’ve been looking and talking about consolidating container sites for a few years now and studying which sites see the most use,” he said.

Besides Marion, the department is also considering closing its Bigfork location and two of the three sites – Denny’s, Essex and Nyack – on U.S. Highway 2 bordering Glacier National Park. The Bigfork container site had the second highest volume of trash last year of the county’s 13 collection locations, but because of land constraints can’t be expanded. It’s also close to better sites in Somers and Creston, Prunty said.

Eventually, the population in the county’s unincorporated areas may outgrow the popular collection program. “I don’t know if it’ll be 10, 20, or 30 years down the road – and I hope it’s in many, many years because people really like and want this service – but it’s likely these are going to be going away,” Prunty said. “It’s a rural refuse removal system in what, at least by Montana standards, is becoming an urban county.”

As growth in the county has exploded – almost 25 percent in the past decade – the waste department has seen significant leaps in their haul as well. In 2007, the department saw a standard 1.4 percent increase in the number of tons of waste gathered. After several years of seeing annual growth of anywhere from 6 to 16 percent, it was the first year over the past five where the department saw a slow-down to more normal growth rates.

In Marion’s case, Prunty said along with improved services, consolidating the Kila and Marion sites into a new, larger site would save money in the long run. His office estimates the extra cost of driving the extra 24 miles roundtrip from Kila to Marion at over $72,000 a year.

“We need a new Kila site – the existing one isn’t big enough and without improvements we’re not very good neighbors to the folks living with the site out there the way it is now,” Prunty said. “When we look at where our garbage is coming from it makes sense to close the Marion site instead of the Kila one.”

Last year, the Kila site accounted for 12.4 percent of the county’s total 63,837,704 tons of waste. Marion had 2,441,227 tons of waste, or 3.8 percent of the total.

But that’s little consolation to Marion residents who, while they may produce less waste, are upset at the prospect of losing the local service they say is necessary to deal with the growth in their area.

Marion had more subdivision growth from 1990 through 2007 than the Kila area, according to the county planning office, but saw a much smaller population growth rate over the same time. The 2000 census recorded the Kila-area population at 1,321 and the Marion area at 867.

Miller pointed to the recent improvements to the Marion site as a reason to keep it, and says several area residents won’t be able to physically or financially afford to haul the extra distance to Kila. Several residents said they hoped the county would reach out to them by holding a public meeting in their area before moving forward with the project.

The solid waste district’s next board meeting is March 25 at 5 p.m. in the boardroom at the county landfill.

“If you give people a local place to take their trash, they’ll take it there,” Miller said. “But, if you take the place they’re used to having away, they’ll throw it wherever. We should be expanding services, not taking away what we already have.”