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Eyes wide open - The Atlantic City trash flap

Jun 10, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

The Atlantic City trash station flap probably as the shape of things to come.

Fremont County is on a long, difficult road toward solvency in its trash collection operations. The current controversy over the rural transfer stations near Atlantic City define the problem in microcosm.

We are lucky our population is relatively small, so we don't create enormous volumes of trash. Things could be worse. But even the small collection points serving some of the thinnest population areas in the county show how hard it is to get a handle on the situation.

Decisions made this spring have sparked anger and anxiousness from residents who have been accustomed to being able to take their trash to the transfer stations whenever they want -- any time of day, any day of the week -- and now have been told access to the stations is going to be curtailed sharply, down to just a few days per month.

As detailed in our news pages over the past couple of weeks, county officials are still engaged in discussions with affected residents over the cutback decisions for the rural stations. The reduction in service is drastic, and some easing of the stripped-down schedule still might be permitted.

But it won't be by much. The truth is, this is a frank, eyes-wide-open look at the sort of decisions the solid waste district is confronted with if it is to become self-sufficient without a substantial increase in the taxes it collects.

For various reasons through many years, the trash collection and disposal service provided by the county failed to generate enough revenue to pay for itself. In more recent times, the situation became fiscally critical, and user fees for individual consumers, on top of what citizens already paid in taxes to support the solid waste district, became more important -- and more controversial.

It became clear that the transfer stations were problematical. They were vandalized. Consumers dumped stuff at the stations that they weren't supposed to. Fees intended to be generated through the honor system either weren't paid fully, were stolen, or both. More supervision of the sites was recommended at the very time the district was running out of money.

This is an oversimplified synopsis of a more complicated problem, but it all comes down to demand for service outstripping the resources to provide it.

People in our county who follow solid waste issues have long said the public doesn't fully grasp the gravity of the situation. Well, as an attention-getting device, the transfer station cutback is a doozy.

Get ready for more of this, Fremont County. In our tax-averse political climate, and with the economy still not performing the way we'd like, an easy answer to this problem simply doesn't exist. But a hard one does, and it's probably going to look something very much like this.

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