Progressive-Conservative Struggle Over Solid Waste Plan | WGLT

Progressive-Conservative Struggle Over Solid Waste Plan

Jan 6, 2018

The McLean County Board Land Use Committee on Friday afternoon stripped significant language out of a proposed 20-year solid waste management plan.

The elements eliminated could have encouraged municipal ordinances requiring recycling by commercial enterprises and at apartment complexes. The vote was 4-1 along party lines with Republicans voting for the revision.

The Republicans and the Democrat on the Land Use Committee all voiced support for the idea that plans matter and are intended to be implemented. That tenet makes the policy struggle important, even though any move for commercial or apartment recycling ordinances would be years away, closer to the end than the beginning of the 20-year plan. The plan is also intended to be revised every five years, offering other opportunities for conflict, no matter which side wins the current point.

The change to the original plan was referred to as the "Scritchlow Amendment," for County Board Member Ryan Scritchlow, who proposed the alteration. He said he prefers to let the free market decide the issue instead of having government penalties for noncompliance with recycling goals.

"I believe in a fiscally responsible smaller government, not an overreaching one. For me this is a principled belief."

Michael Brown is head of the Ecology Action Center, which took two years of public input and consulted stakeholders in a variety of areas to come up with the proposal that would gradually raise recycling goals from the roughly 40 percent common today to 80 percent recycling of waste in 20 years, through a variety of education and other initiatives.

Brown said the stakeholders included commercial developers, members of the construction industry, and multiunit dwelling company representatives. Brown said the potential for ordinances requiring apartment and commercial recycling came from that sector as a way to "level the playing field" and make sure no rental property owner or business operator would be placed at a competitive disadvantage.

The County Landfill is expected to close this year, and shipping costs will rise as waste haulers turn to the Livingston County Landfill for disposal of Bloomington, Normal, and McLean County waste. That price increase could also make increased recycling attractive to a variety of private and public interests. Defining how those costs will be paid in the future and at what level of society is part of the current debate over the solid waste plan.

Scritchlow owns several rental properties and two post-frame commercial buildings. He was accused of a potential conflict of interest at an earlier committee meeting. On Friday he defended himself, saying he owns single-family residences and his commercial tenants contract their own waste removal as part of their leases. He said he would not be affected by any such potential ordinance.

"I want to be crystal clear that I am here to serve my community and am in no way trying to block an ordinance out of self-interest. If you have any question of my desire to serve this community, you need to check your facts," said Scritchlow.

Scritchlow said his opposition to an ordinance stems from his conservative values.

"I believe in a fiscally responsible smaller government, not an overreaching one. For me this is a principled belief," said Scritchlow.

Democratic County Board member Laurie Wollrab supported the original draft plan. She noted it took two years, 1,500 hours of staff time by the EAC, and hundreds of stakeholders offering input to develop. She said public comment included more than 2,300 positive comments and only one negative comment.

"We have a community that came together to develop this plan as a result of a very open public hearing process. Let me underscore the word process here. We see that there is broad support for the plan as originally proposed. The very purpose of a public hearing is to ensure that citizens are aware of a proposal and have the opportunity to speak for it. And even more importantly, to voice their opinion if they so desire," said Wollrab.

The indication of public support voiced by Wollrab did not sway County Board member Jacob Beard. He said even 80 percent support for an initiative is not a controlling level in his mind. Beard said he too represents the will of the community and was elected to express that will.

Michael Brown said there was no intent in the plan to prescribe specific ordinance language, just to acknowledge that meeting the aggressive recycling goals could require such a policy.

"That would be up to communities that might consider such a measure in the future," said Brown.

If so, Beard argued, a changing road map could be changed later. Beard said his argument is two-fold.

"Ordinances properly belong at the city level. And such ordinances frequently are poorly written and end up impacting people in a different way than intended. It is my hope that as technology improves, as our perspectives on stewardship improve, that we as a community, not through the threat of fines, but out of a desire for a cleaner environment make that investment and choose to recycle more," said Beard.

"The ordinance is simply one tool of many in the proposed toolbox for reaching these ambitious goals and so need is a relative term. It is something that through this process, the ultimate draft that was proposed it was seen as something that would help accomplish those goals," said Brown.

Brown said such ordinances are fairly common in mid-sized communities. The city of Peoria has had a commercial recycling ordinance for 15 years. Urbana has an apartment recycling ordinance for quite a while. Brown characterized both as successful.

Brown noted the Town of Normal has received frequent suggestions for such apartment recycling rules in past years, and the town has always pointed to the solid waste plan's lack of a recommendation in its response. He said it appeared the town intent was to create such an element in the plan.

GLT asked Brown does having a potential mixed message among various plan adoptees hurt the effectiveness of the plan?

"As essentially a contractor for the various governmental units, ideally we will have one plan at the end of this to guide our efforts," said Brown.

"We will do our best with all our community partners. This plan requires a high degree of participation from a really broad base as a community for success, whether it is the original plan as written or as amended," said Brown.

If Bloomington and Normal agree to ordinance language in their passage of the document, is it a distinction without a difference to leave the county without that measure?

"That's something we'll have to explore if it happens. We will do our best with whatever plan is passed," said Brown.

The amended solid waste master plan goes to the full McLean County Board on Jan. 16 and to Bloomington and Normal councils later.

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