Majority of speakers at public hearing voice opposition to trash-district plan

Rep. Schoemehl calls for county to scrap program, start over

By MIKE ANTHONY

The majority of speakers at a public hearing last week on the county’s plan to establish trash districts in unincorporated areas opposed the program.

Of an estimated 32 people who spoke at the hearing, four supported the county’s plan to establish eight trash districts in unincorporated areas in which the County Council would award one bid to a trash hauler per district.

Those in favor said trash districts would increase recycling, reduce truck traffic on their streets and save landfill space.

But roughly 28 people voiced their opposition to the county’s plan, contending trash districts would eliminate their ability to select the trash hauler of their choice, eventually would result in increased costs to residents for trash collection and force small trash-collection companies of business.

The May 1 public hearing was called by Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, and several state legislators, including Rep. Michael Vogt, D-Affton; Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay; Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-Manchester; Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood; Rep. Pat Yaeger, D-Lemay; Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville; and Rep. Sue Schoemehl, D-Oakville.

Some of the legislators, including Schoemehl, called for county officials to scrap the program and start from scratch.

“… I would like the county to abandon the program — this trash program as it is,” Schoemehl said. “The residents of St. Louis County are not confident about what was enacted … My suggestion would be to start over — find a plan that’s acceptable for all of us.”

Oakville resident Tom Diehl, who served on the county’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee, told legislators, “… I’m here to say that the whole issue that they give about the need for preserving landfill space is a red herring. Our study showed that with the recycling levels that were in existence then, we have landfill capacity for 60 to 80 years. Now no level-headed person opposes recycling. The need for recycling is necessary. St. Louis County’s plan, however, is a canard to drive out small trash haulers and reward the politically powerful.

“Once local choice is eliminated, as it will be, all St. Louis County residents will pay higher prices for basic trash service. This is a back-door tax on residents of our county, especially those on fixed incomes …,” he said.

Lemay resident Joe Rodriguez said he supports the trash districts.

“… On my street, there are at least five haulers who come four times a week now. So that’s 20 trucks per week that go up and down my street, which is not a subdivision. It’s an older area of St. Louis County in (Councilman) Mr. (John) Campisi’s (6th) District where I don’t believe the streets were ever meant to hold that type of weight or traffic,” Rodriguez said. “In my case, if one hauler was chosen, that would be a reduction to one hauler four times a week, which would actually be 20 percent of the traffic and gas being used on my street …

“I think some of you have played kind of loose with some statistics. Where do you get — on what do you base other than a meeting — the fact that the majority of residents are against this?” he asked. “Other than these meetings, on what do you base the statement and could you answer that?”

Besides public meetings, Lembke noted state legislators have received e-mails, telephone calls and letters from residents opposing the trash districts, adding elected officials typically use that type of feedback to measure constituents’ views.

Rodriguez said, “I think in an issue that seems to be this important to so many people, perhaps either county government or perhaps the state officials who have much better things to do, just like you said county government did — I think you have much better things to do.”

Bivins noted that a previous speaker, attorney Lester Stuckmeyer, had provided statistics on the number of subdivisions opting out of the trash-district program — 16,000 households in south county alone.

Rodriguez said, “So your answer would be that there’s been no statistically valid survey done that would address this issue and before anyone goes to court on that, I think it might be a logical thing to do.”

“Well, we probably could solve that by a countywide vote,” Gibbons said.

Rodriguez said, “Well, or you could resolve it by a survey as well. I think you gentlemen have more important things to do …”

Tony Niskanen told legislators, “… My group is called Make Your Opinion Count. We have over 500 volunteers. A year ago, we started doing surveys. For the gentleman who said has anybody done any real market research, part of my background as a corporate planner was doing significant research. We surveyed 18,000 homes a year ago to ask the question: Were you satisfied with your current hauler and various other questions. Did you want to have a vote on the choice of the plan? Ninety-nine percent of the people said they wanted a vote.

“They were perfectly satisfied with their current hauler. They had been through two and three other haulers …,” he added.

Campisi said he would continue to oppose the trash districts.

“… I can tell you that as a council member, in my opinion, I am not a lawyer, but I can tell you that I think the county is putting ourselves at risk by going forward without abiding by the law — the state law — that our legislators have put in place in order to have these trash districts …,” he said.