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Assembly rejects money to plan new recycling building

Matthew Pearson with plastics at CRF.jpg
Recycling Manager Matthew Pearson shows bags of plastic bottles awaiting shipping at the Central Recycling Facility in July, 2022.

A proposal to start designing a new building for recycling in Fairbanks failed to get the funding.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough pays rent for the building on Marika Street where it has the Central Recycling Facility or CRF. It has been a plan for the last few years for the borough to build its own building.

Jonathan Shambare, the Design & Construction Manager for Public Works told the Assembly, at its recent meeting, the ordinance would spend 50-thousand dollars for the scoping phase of a new Central Recycling Facility building.

“It will take two to three months to do some of the concept study. If the project continues from there, it'll probably take about a year to do design and also include reaching out to the community to make sure that we are doing what the community wants to do,” Shambare said.

This project was already app roved in this year’s (FY 2023) Capital Improvement Program. That’s the long-term plan that spaces out maintenance projects as the borough can afford them. The money is also already in the Solid Waste Disposal Enterprise Fund, which has about $12 million dollars to operate the department.

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Bales of mixed paper await shipping at the Central Recycling Facility building on Marika Street in Fairbanks.

Assembly member Barbara Haney was not familiar the Solid Waste Department. She asked Mayor Bryce Ward, who sponsored the proposal to transfer the money, how revenue comes in.

“Um, where did the Solid Waste Enterprise Fund come from?” Haney asked.

“So essentially, your tax dollars don't pay for the landfill. The tipping fees generated have to pay for of operations -- the revenue generated from the tipping fees that are paid for when you go across the scales at the landfill,” Ward said.

He explained that the small amount of revenue from recycling is only part of the overall revenue for the Solid Waste Department.

Recycling costs more money than it brings in -- a lot more. And even though it is a service demanded by borough residents, with a lot of participation, it is expensive. The discussion to approve a small first step for a new building, turned into a debate on recycling itself.

Assembly member Mindy O’Neall said the request was reasonable and residents requested the service before the center was opened in 2017 and the Assembly got a lot of comments and emails when it was closed during a contract change in 2022.

“So what that says to me is it's a service that's used and valued. It's been a long time coming for us to be able to appropriate funds that increase that service,” O’Neall said.

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Aluminum cans awaiting shipping at the building the FNSB rents from University of Alaska.

 “I understand the desire to recycle and the desire to try to, you know, improve our planet. Well, we just, it's not at all cost effective. Um, we have so many costs in the borough,” Cash said.

That was Assembly member, Jimi Cash. He and Tammie Wilson didn’t want to support any services that lose money.

“So, although 50,000 doesn't seem like a lot to look at building our own building to lose money on, instead. Wilson said.

Ward explained that recycling revenue has been increasing since the center opened in this iteration in 2017. The year ending June 30th, 2022 was actually the most successful year for the CRF since it opened, generating $77,404.

But to pay rent on the building, maintenance, staffing and shipping, it costs $691,296 each year.

“I’m not sure $691,000 we should be paying to do that. I mean, that's a lot of money that we're spending to recycle. If I came over and I said, ‘Hey, I got a deal for you. You give me 691,000 and I'm gonna give you back 77,000,’ would you call that a good business deal?” Haney asked.

Several Assembly Members, like Kristin Kelly, said the recycling center was worth the cost because it extends the life of the landfill.

“I just wanna point out that we are a government. We're not a business. We try to run as economically as possible, but government does do services and recycling is a service that this borough and residents, they really want this service. I think, um, it's something we should pay for,” Kelly said.

The proposal was voted down in a 4 to 5 vote.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.