By Maria Wyllie EBS Associate Editor
BIG SKY – Big Sky’s only recycling center is going away come October.
For more than five years, the recycling bins, which the Gallatin Solid Waste Management District provides and Four Corners Recycling services, have lived on a 60-foot road right-of-way on Aspen Leaf Drive in Big Sky Town Center. The Simkins family – developers of Town Center – owns the land.
The location is designated for parking and isn’t a place where one expects to see recycling bins, according to Town Center Project Manager Ryan Hamilton, who also noted looming development pressure with residential units planned for the adjacent land.
“We knew upfront it wouldn’t be the final resting place,” Hamilton said. “It’s in a residential zone. It worked for all these years because it’s been around vacant land, but that land will be built on soon.”
Town Center initially set a deadline of October 2014 for the bins to be removed, but extended the date to Oct. 1 of this year with hopes that local interest groups would identify a new site.
The Big Sky Natural Resource Council, which is a subcommittee of Big Sky Community Corp., works to provide sustainable solutions for natural resource issues in Big Sky. The group is searching for a landowner to host the site, and working to help facilitate funding that might be needed for site improvement and management, according to BSNRC member Emily O’Connor.
Jim Simon, district manager for the GSWMD, has met regularly with BSNRC and says they’ve been looking for alternatives for nearly two years without luck.
“We haven’t been able to get anyone to commit to hosting a site to move forward with a real development plan,” Simon said. “It’s unfortunate with the growth up there that there’s not a lot of options for us to move the site right now.”
A few options are still on the table though.
At the March 17 Big Sky Water and Sewer District board meeting, Simon proposed plans for a new facility on a 1.4-acre parcel of land near the water and sewer treatment plant, located along the east boundary of the sewer ponds.
Local developer Scott Altman owns the proposed land, and at the Aug. 25 BSWSD board meeting, he agreed to trade the lot in exchange for 30 Single Family Equivalent permits from the district. The SFE’s will allow Altman to complete development with employee housing and commercial buildings behind the new ACE Hardware store being built on Lone Mountain Trail.
The board made a motion for BSWSD General Manager Ron Edwards to move forward with the exchange.
Board president Packy Cronin says the board needs to secure the land before deciding how it will be used.
“Right now, getting land on the table is monumental,” he said. “We’ll tackle the question of what to do with the land once we officially own it.”
As of EBS press time on Sept. 2, a timeline for the trade had not been determined.
Cronin says that while October is Town Center’s deadline for bin removal, it’s not the BSWSD board’s deadline.
“Our mission is to provide sewer and water services to our customers, not recycling services,” he said. “We get no help from the [Big Sky Resort Area District] tax board, so how do we even proceed with this? If the greater community wants these things to happen, maybe they need to start funding some of it.”
Should the BSWSD board approve the site for a recycling center, it wouldn’t be in place until summer of 2016, according to BSWSD General Manager Ron Edwards.
BSWSD would have to negotiate a lease with Gallatin County, install improvements to support the site, and collect funding – something Edwards says would most likely be contingent on resort tax. If BSWSD applies for and receives funding from the resort tax board, July 1 would be the first day it could spend the money.
While the site search continues, Republic Services, which currently offers trash pick up in Big Sky, is working with the community to offer a curbside recycling pickup service every other week.
Republic Services Division Manager Jason Veitch says the single-stream program – where the user places all recyclables together in one can – requires a minimum of 200 accounts to be financially viable. Price would be dependent on variables like number of accounts, commodity values, and processing costs, he added.
“We just need a trigger – a mechanism to gauge interest,” Veitch said. “Sending a truck up here for one or two people isn’t going to work.”
Like the trash program currently offered, curbside recycling would be subscription based and subscribers could cancel the service at any time. Veitch is urging those interested in a curbside recycling program to call Republic Services.
Once 200 people have shown interest, Veitch says it would take approximately eight weeks to start the program due to logistics including route planning and can delivery. February of next year is the earliest Republic Services could have something in place, he said.
In the meantime, residents must haul their recycling to centers in Bozeman or trash it, something Veitch says could create problems with bears and litter. If people do find themselves with more trash for pick up, he encourages them to ensure food waste is secure, and to leave items like cardboard out if there’s not enough room in the cans.
If there’s enough interest in curbside recycling, O’Connor and Veitch still hope someone will step forward and offer a site in the interim.
“The council’s hope is that once the bins go away, the community will realize what an asset we’re losing,” O’Connor said.
Republic Services can be reached at (406) 586-0606.