Far less time has been spent to answer a simpler question: When this garbage is picked up, where will it go?
“This is potentially a much bigger issue,” said Kodiak borough engineering and facilities director Woody Koning in a borough assembly work session in late July.
The obvious answer is to simply dump washed-up waste in the landfill, but the landfill does not accept beach cleanup piles and there are two issues if it begins doing so. One is legal, the other is financial.
The Regulatory Commission of Alaska sets the service area boundaries for landfills in Alaska. Those boundaries dictate the areas the landfills can collect garbage from and give governments rights to collect fees from those areas. In Kodiak, the boundaries of the Kodiak Island Borough landfill extend to the road system.
Brandon Miller, a utility regulatory analyst for the commission, said that doesn’t mean the borough can’t collect garbage that floats in from off-island; it just means the landfill can’t have customers off the road system. If an individual takes trash from off the road system and takes it to the landfill himself, that isn’t forbidden. If someone dumps garbage from off the road system into a business dumpster on the road system, that isn’t forbidden.
What gets problematic is when someone off the road system wants to pay to dump their garbage in the landfill.
Andy Schroeder, head of Island Trails Network, operates beach cleanups each year that remove 30,000 pounds to 40,000 pounds of garbage from sites away from the road system. “We can fit about 10,000-12,000 pounds of marine debris into a 40-foot container,” he said, “and we send typically one or two containers per year down to Seattle.”
Island Trails works with Kodiak-based Threshold Services and Skagit River Steel & Recycling in Washington state, but Schroeder said he’s always looking for options. “It seems like the borough and I are on the same page in searching for solutions,” he said.
One solution might be if the borough waived its commercial waste disposal fee -- $150 per ton -- in order to get around RCA fee guidelines. That raises a financial problem.
The borough is spending $16 million to expand the landfill, which is expected to reach capacity within the next year or two. Much of the money for that expansion is coming from the state or federal governments. The rest has a local source.
“Who’s paying for this landfill? It’s the customer,” Koning said.
Accepting marine debris means less space in the landfill for residential garbage -- the landfill’s stated purpose. The landfill is paid for by city and borough residents on the road system, and accepting large amounts of marine debris means filling the landfill those people paid for, Koning said.
Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration trumpeted a $50,000 grant to the state of Alaska for marine debris cleanup. That’s about the amount Island Trails Network spends each year to scrub a handful of beaches, then haul the garbage away to Seattle. Hauling to the Kodiak landfill might lower that cost, but Kodiak ratepayers will still shoulder some burden, even if the federal or state governments pay disposal fees.
The more garbage that comes in, the more pressure is put on the existing landfill and the new expansion, which will only last another decade or so.
“As it stands now, I don’t believe we’re in a position to accept (marine debris),” Koning said. “We have denied beach cleanup piles before. Personally, we all support it, but we just don’t accept it at the landfill.”
The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly has the final call on whether to accept marine debris at the landfill, but in the end the ocean may have the final say in how the borough’s fight against garbage.
If the waves wash up more debris than is forecast, even the landfill might not be enough.
“Considering what’s expected to come ... tsunami debris is going to be more than we can handle,” Koning said.