AUGUSTA — City councilors tabled a proposal to impose a $250 fine on out-of-towners who put items into recycling bins meant for residents, or for residents to use the bins improperly by putting items that aren’t recyclable into them.

Councilors voted Thursday to table the proposal until June to provide time to see if other already approved changes to the recycling program address the problem of misuse of the bins.

If the problem persists, the proposed fine can be put in place in June, said At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien, who made the motion to table it.

The fine was proposed by At-large Councilor Corey Wilson to help enforce the rules at recycling collection bins at the John Charest Public Works Facility off North Street and Hatch Hill landfill which, by Feb. 5, will be the only places where residents can drop off their recyclable items.

Some councilors said the removal of two other bins, which were accessible to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week and were largely unmonitored by city staff, might solve the problem of nonresidents putting items into them and of residents putting nonrecyclable items into them.

At-large Councilor Jennifer Day said she was concerned about the fine because she heard from residents who said they would stop recycling because they were afraid they could be fined if they made a mistake and put a nonrecyclable item into a bin.

“I’m hearing from people who aren’t going to recycle because they’re worried they’re going to make a mistake,” she said. “I think it’s just over-regulating and putting too much negative context around our recycling program.”

Wilson said councilors could, instead of tabling the fine, adopt it and, if it turned out to not be necessary, remove it from the books. However, councilors voted 5-3 to table the proposal, with Wilson, Ward 3 Councilor Harold Elliott and Ward 2 Councilor Eric Lind opposed.

Resident Mary Saunders also expressed concern about the planned fine, noting that residents might have boxes with out-of-town addresses on them that they legitimately take to recycling but might make it appear they were nonresidents. She also said an Augusta resident could be sick and ask a friend from out of town to take recyclables to one of the bins.

City Manager William Bridgeo said there are already signs at the drop-offs saying the bins are for use by residents only. But he said there has been evidence of nonresidents using them, such as people from other towns who work in Augusta dropping off their recyclables in the city.

The fine proposal follows a December 2018 council vote to eliminate two of the city’s four sites where residents can drop recyclable items into bins, also in response to reports of misuse of the bins. The locations to be eliminated, both of which are, for now, available 24 hours a day, are in the back parking lot at Augusta City Center and outside the police station. The bins at those two spots will be removed by Feb. 5.

That measure was taken after city officials found people were placing nonrecyclables into the bins, as well as piling items around the outside them once they became full. Both of those sites are not monitored.

The two remaining recycling bin locations — the ones at the public works and Hatch Hill facilities — are monitored and are accessible only when those complexes are open. Hatch Hill is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The Public Works Department is open to the public 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Bridgeo and Public Works Director Lesley Jones have proposed extending the hours at the public works facility, keeping it open until 6 p.m. Wednesday and making it available from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

Bridgeo said the extra staff time for those operating hours would cost about $14,000 a year.

Bridgeo said the proposal approved by councilors previously, removing collection bins from the city’s two unmonitored locations outside Augusta City Center and the police station, should go a long way to prevent nonresidents from putting items into bins at the remaining collection sites, which city workers monitor more closely.

At-large Councilor Mark O’Brien noted, previously, that some people think the city makes money on recyclables by reselling them. It does not, he said. The city pays about $200 per load to have the bins of recyclables that are collected in Augusta hauled to ecomaine’s processing plant in Portland, where they are separated. Some recyclable materials ultimately are sold by ecomaine as commodities, but ecomaine currently pays $15 a ton to get rid of paper and make sure it is recycled, because of changes in the international market for recyclables. The city also is charged a fee by ecomaine when bins from the city are taken to the facility contaminated with nonrecyclable items.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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