tampabay.com

Panel to push for expanded recycling

By DAVID DECAMP
Published March 21, 2007


SHADY HILLS - A Pasco County advisory committee will urge the County Commission to ramp up recycling efforts, even as the costs and details are uncertain.

The expense and time line to expand the much-maligned county recycling effort are wrapped in with upcoming decisions on expanding Pasco's overcapacity incinerator and paying to haul trash to other counties.

However, the citizens advisory committee decided Tuesday at the Shady Hills incinerator to urge commissioners to expand residential recycling.

"Just start," committee member Monica Dear said of her expected advice to the board.

Pasco's program is voluntary, and most recent studies by the state show only 13 percent of the waste from Pasco neighborhoods is recycled. The county's existing program uses blue plastic bags for curbside collection of glass, plastic and metal, and excludes newspapers.

But a recent pilot program in Wesley Chapel showed that residents recycled more if they used blue bins and were allowed to include newspapers.

Solid waste manager John Power and recycling coordinator Rachel Surrency said they are still gathering information on how other counties handle and pay for recycling.

Surrency said she would not recommend another pilot program or a new recycling program in one ZIP code, as Hernando did to launch its program. Instead, she said, "Someone needs to put it in front of the commission to make a decision."

Counties collect money and pay for services differently. Pasco makes property owners pay a $62 annual assessment to run its waste sites, besides curbside pickup fees paid to haulers.

In other counties, costs vary and specific haulers have exclusive deals - franchises - to pick up waste and recycling in certain areas. Nearly a dozen haulers operate in Pasco without any residential franchise deals, but Power said switching to franchise deals is being discussed.

"Franchising is going to be the first step. It has to be," Dear said.

Switching to a franchise system in Pasco could be cumbersome and create friction with haulers' business interests, but Power said successful recycling programs often are in counties that use franchise agreements.

Top county officials also are discussing the expansion of the incinerator. Based on Hillsborough County's expansion with Covanta, the company that also runs Pasco's incinerator, the county could expect to pay $100-million to $116-million to increase capacity by half, Power and County Administrator John Gallagher said.

But a state permit to expand would take 18 months to obtain, followed by time for construction. That could lead into the end of current operator Covanta's contract, which expires in 2011. One option could involve taking bids to oversee the plant, Power said.

The flurry of details left some committee members flummoxed over what to recommend, and whether the commissioners will act soon.

"Whether they get off their seats and do something, that's another story," committee member Paul Votinelli said. "We'll keep working."

David DeCamp can be reached at 727 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com