Recycling is not dead in Letcher County, as many had feared after the Letcher Fiscal Court said it could no longer afford the operate the county recycling center at Whitco.
At its January meeting Tuesday night, the Whitesburg City Council voted unanimously to take over operations at the recycling center. The council’s vote came after a special meeting of the fiscal court held Monday, when Whitesburg Mayor James Wiley Craft threw recycling a lifeline with an offer that the City of Whitesburg would take over operation of the center under certain conditions.
At Tuesday night’s council meeting,
Craft asked Letcher Judge/ Executive Jim Ward to explain the situation to the council. Ward told council members that as coal severance tax receipts continue to dwindle, several unpleasant cuts are being forced on the county, with the recycling center being one. Ward said that the largest single cost at the recycling center was labor — estimated at a December court meeting at $196,000 per year.
Craft said he was first approached about taking over the recycling center by Council Member Robin Bowen Watco, and that after examining numbers provided by Ward concluded the city could not afford it. However, Craft said that after talk- ing to City Water Maintenance Manager Chris Caudill and looking closer at the county’s labor costs, he decided that it could be affordable for the city.
“We have people on staff who will work there” Craft said in explaining the city wouldn’t have the large labor costs the county had.
Craft urged the council to take the bold step of taking the recycling center over not only because it was the right thing to do but because it was also necessary. With the cost of dumping at the landfill going up to $50 per ton, Craft said, it was necessary to either reduce the amount of solid waste going to the landfill or to increase city sanitation fees. He said that every bag of recyclables that goes to the center is a bag that won’t go to the landfill. (Both Craft and Ward said their homes generate three or four bags of recyclables and only one bag of garbage in a regular week.)
Craft also appealed to the citizens of Whitesburg to participate in recycling for their own benefit.
“I urge everybody in the City of Whitesburg to recycle,” said Craft. “Urge your neighbors. If garbage bills (landfill costs) continue to go up, we will have to raise your fees. I want to do what we can to prevent that.”
Craft said former Letcher County Jailer Gary Cornett, who ran the recycling center for several years before his retirement, has volunteered to train the city workers who will work at the center. He said that if all goes well, the county can begin picking blue bags up again next week with the city picking them up next Wednesday — its regular day for picking up recyclables.
At the fiscal court meeting held Monday, Craft proposed that the city lease the center from the fiscal court for $1 a year in return for keeping it open and accepting the county’s recyclables as well as recyclables from Jenkins and Fleming-Neon, provided that the Letcher County Sanitation Department and the respective city departments transport their collections for recycling to the plant, which is located at the mouth of Cowan Creek.
Craft said the city will sell the recyclables to offset the cost of running the center, and the more recyclable materials it can sell, the better it will be. The city will assume the cost for utilities and maintenance, and city workers will be stationed at the center from Monday through Friday. The lease will be an automatic rollover lease for six months at a time. If it turns out that the arrangement is not possible to continue the city can terminate the lease after the six-month period.
Craft said Caudill, the city’s water maintenance manager, will direct the center and suggested that any questions concerning the day to day operation of the center be directed to Caudill. He said he hasn’t spoken to the mayors of Jenkins and Fleming-Neon about their participation yet. However, each of those city’s governments have expressed concern about the center’s closing. The question will be whether the other two cities can afford to transport materials to the recycling center or if other arrangements can be made.
At the court meeting, Judge Ward said it is unlikely that the Letcher County Sanitation Department will be able to afford to haul the recyclables from the cities, but they will continue to pick up blue bags of recyclable material just as they have since the Blue Bag program was initiated. He also said that the county will leave two or three dumpsters at the plant for drop-off recycling. Both Craft and Ward joined Caudill in cautioning that the recycling plant is not a garbage dump and that only recyclable materials will be accepted.
At Monday’s meeting, Craft said he had already begun to feel guilty about placing recyclable material in his regular garbage and that he felt it had been a tremendous setback for the entire county when the program was canceled.
“I felt like a criminal when I threw a plastic bottle in the trash,” said Craft. “It’s a shame to let that lay in a landfill lay in a landfill for 200 years.”
Craft said the city will not charge anyone for dropping off recyclable materials, but that no furniture, building material, or solid waste will be accepted there.
“I want to make sure people know this is not a dump, but for recyclables only,” Caudill added at Tuesday night’s council meeting.
Ward told Craft he has been saving his blue recycling bags in the hope that something could be done to revive the program and that he is extremely happy that Whitesburg is taking the lead in saving the center. The court voted unanimously to enter into the lease arrangement with the city.
“This is a responsible attempt to keep it open,” said Craft. “The city wants to be a good county citizen. We are the county seat and we want to be a leader in the county.”
Ron Brunty of the Letcher County Soil and Conservation District said the District will put up $5,000 for the purpose of educating Letcher County citizens about the necessity of recycling. Brunty said the District will also help by recruiting volunteers to work at the center.
“We want to help by being involved in any way we can,” said Brunty. “We all grew up in a hollow where everything was a dump. Nobody wants to see that again.”
“We will take all the help we can get,” replied Craft. “I think closing it is not an option.”
In other business at Tuesday night’s meeting, Colin Fultz of Kentucky Mist Moonshine Distillery reported that the distillery had a very good last quarter in 2015. He said that although the distillery started selling its products during the Mountain Heritage Festival in September, his numbers reflect the sales for the last three months of the year. In that time, the distillery sold 3,618 quarts of moonshine through Perry Distributors and 1,740 quarts at the Kentucky Mist store in Whitesburg. Fultz said that the Whitesburg sales put $1,740 in tax receipts in the city’s treasury as well. He added that at this time 16 different vendors sell various products through the store in Whitesburg with receipts totaling $13,000.
Fultz also approached the council on behalf of Whitesburg restaurant owners and asked that the city issue a special onetime rule to allow Sunday alcohol sales for Super Bowl Sunday. He also asked the council to consider allowing establishments to stay open until 1 a.m. on special occasions. The council voted unanimously to lift the Sunday sales restrictions for Super Bowl Sunday, but Craft he would like to take the other matter under consideration before asking for a vote.
In the mayor’s report, Craft shared the good news that a Louisville laboratory had examined 20 samples taken from the Daniel Boone Hotel and found no presence of asbestos in any of them. He said he was surprised by the finding but extremely pleased as well, adding that this will allow the city to move forward with seeking funding to do what is necessary to refurbish the building. He said he will seek bids to repair the roof and the front of the building.
In other city business, Revered Tony Brown invited members of the public to a Martin Luther King Day breakfast at the First Baptist Church on January 18 that will be held in conjunction with the Cowan Community Center. Reverend Steve Peake will preside and breakfast will be served.