By DOTTY NIST
“Seventy-five percent of what you put in your garbage is recycling,” Lynn Yort of Waste Management told attendees at a recent town hall meeting hosted by Walton County District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows.
The meeting, which took place on June 20 at the Padgett Park community room, was attended by 20 people. Along with plans for a pilot recycling program in south Walton County, a number of topics of interest to residents were discussed.
Yort, who works in the waste management services company’s public sector solutions division for the Gulf Coast area, said she has been working with county staff on details for the pilot program. The initiative will require approval by the county commission.
Yort explained that Waste Management hopes to sign up a couple of thousand homes in south Walton County for the pilot program, which is to last one year. Homes participating will receive a 96-gallon recycling container in which to place their plastic, aluminum, glass, and other recyclables. A one-time-per-week recycling pick-up will replace one of these customers’ two weekly garbage pick-ups. Waste Management will determine the results of materials being diverted though the recycling program. Plans are for not only single-family homes but some multi-family residence to be included in the pilot program, according to Yort.
Mary Nielson asked if Waste Management had studied how a recycling program would work for short-term rental homes managed by rental companies. Yort responded that people come to the beach expecting to do as they do at home. Meadows said she had heard anecdotally that tourists could not believe that Walton County does not recycle.
A private company does provide curbside recycling services in south Walton County, and county residents are able to take their recyclables to large tow-away bins provided in a number of areas by the county. In the past, inmates from the Walton Correctional Institution have also provided limited sorting services at the county landfill to remove recyclables from household garbage collections, with the removed items being sold in the marketplace. From the transfer station at the county landfill, household garbage is transported for deposit at Waste Management’s Springhill Landfill in Jackson County.
Bob Sullivan asked Meadows why there would be a need to outsource recycling to Waste Management, with the county already sorting out recyclables.
She responded that the county would need to upgrade its facilities for recycling “if we want to do it right.”
Can a recycling program produce net revenue? Some attendees were doubtful, and Yort did not contradict them.
“It is not a money-making proposition,” said Dave Sell. However Sell said he did support recycling.
Sullivan asked what the reason would be for proceeding with the Waste Management recycling program if recycling was not profitable. “Is it just to feel good?” he asked.
“We do a lot of feel-good,” Yort responded.
` She explained that Waste Management uses naturally-occurring gas from the Springhill Landfill to produce electricity that is used to power 4,000 homes. “We do that because it’s the right thing to do,” she declared.
“We look at garbage as energy and resources…your garbage makes electricity,” she told the residents.
In a discussion on a potential business licensing program in Walton County, Meadows commented, “I don’t know how we can do economic development without this.” She noted,”It is a measure of how forward the county thinks.”
Meadows reported that the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce and the South Walton Fire District are both on board with the concept of a county business licensing program. DeFuniak Springs and some other municipalities in the region already have such programs. A business license ordinance is being written for the county that is anticipated being brought before county commissioners at some point for consideration.
Nielson was hopeful that the county’s program would not be a scaled-down version. “I think a national standard is the way to go,” she said.
A $25 to $30 yearly fee is being discussed in connection with the licensing program.
Bill Fletcher commented that he had asked the county to stake out the $1 million roundabout that is planned for the CR-30A/CR-395 intersection, presumably for informational purposes.
Meadows had presented an alternative plan for the intersection that had been voted down. She told attendees that the roundabout plan could still be rescinded —but that she would not be able to make a motion to that effect, at least for the time being, due to a required time limit. She was of the opinion that a roundabout was not needed, saying that she had monitored the intersection at times of high traffic and found that the wait was only three minutes for motorists.
Meadows said that in stakeholder discussions on the issue, all interests had agreed that it would be advisable to wait for properties around the intersection to be built out before proceeding with improvements.
Mary Lutz asked if there would ever be a look at infrastructure in Walton County before bringing in more traffic.
“It’s the $64,000 question,” Meadows responded. “The rules are on the books” she continued, “they are not followed… but watered down.”
“This is why you have parking everywhere,” Meadows said. “Until we follow the rules, it will continue forever;” she warned, adding “parking is going to be a knock-down, drag-out battle.”
Meadows has spearheaded a study of parking in south Walton County that is to be initiated soon by consultants.
Meadows said her big motivation to run for office had been a desire to protect neighborhoods.
“I would never buy another piece of property here or invest in Walton County knowing what I know;” she revealed, adding “they will not protect you.”
Meadows was concerned about the state Department of Transportation indicating that the new bay bridge would cost $118 million rather than $177 million, as had been previously estimated, yet Walton County being told that only $50 million of its $75 million local match would be returned to the county, rather than $59 million. She explained that the county was being told that $7 million to $9 million would be kept by the state for the construction of the park under the bridge.
“That doesn’t make sense to me;” she said, “my opinion is no, we want the $59 million.”
Leonard Anderson expressed opposition to signs being placed on the beach by beachfront property owners stating “no trespass” and similar messages. “They’re a disgrace,” he complained. Meadows asked staff to contact the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) and TDC Code Enforcement to seek action on such signs that are unpermitted.
Meadows encouraged residents to attend upcoming county budget workshops and hearings and to take a look at the budget proposed for the new fiscal year. The county’s first public budget workshop is scheduled for 9 a.m. on July 11 at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.