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Is Dickinson ready for curbside recycling? Officials say yes and no

The city of Bismarck formally entered into a contract for a curbside recycling program recently.

Could Dickinson be next in line?

Though some city leaders have expressed interest in implementing a similar program in the Queen City, they say it probably won't happen anytime in the near future.

"We are currently in the middle of a solid waste study by Wenck Associates, an engineering firm, and part of the study will look at collection pickup," Dickinson Public Works Director Gary Zuroff said. "I'm hoping by October we'll have updated information with regard to recycling opportunities. There is no doubt the study will show curbside recycling increases costs, but the question is how much."

On Tuesday, the Bismarck City Commission leaped over the final hurdle to getting curbside pickup when it approved a contract with Waste Management, a Houston-based collection giant. The new single-sort program -- which will cost participants $3.81 more per month in fees -- is slated to begin in early 2014, said Bismarck Public Works Director John Heintz.

"This is something that the city first started looking into back in the 1990s, so it's been a long process," Heintz said. "I think the city is looking forward to it and we're excited to get the program going during spring 2014."

Designed for single-family homes and duplexes in Bismarck, materials will be collected in 96-gallon recycling containers every two weeks by Waste Management, which will truck the waste products to a facility in Minnesota.

"This is a progressive move, but it's a smart move," said Bismarck Mayor John Warford. "During my 11 years as mayor, I would say the sentiment runs about 90 percent to 10 percent in favor of (recycling). Usually, the people against this program are on a fixed income or have a philosophical argument with it. Whether you're an environmentalist or not, it does make sense to take pressure off our landfills and recycle. This is just common sense."

Dickinson being an oil-impacted community is largely unlike Bismarck. It is in the midst of numerous projects and upgrades, which Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson said places the recycling issue on the back burner.

"It's something that I think the city is definitely interested in, but we just have so much on our plate right now because of all the oil impacts," Johnson said. "We're short-staffed as it is, so I would hate to ask the city to tackle another project. But I'd be interested to learn about what Bismarck is doing in the area of recycling."

One stipulation that Bismarck added to its program was an option for residents to opt out of the program if they weren't interested, which several thousand people chose to do. Still, more than 12,000 households are signed up for the new curbside program.

"It would be great if we could do it, but I just don't think we have the staff right now," Dickinson City Commissioner Shirley Dukart said. "People would have to actively take part in something like that, though going green would be great."

Implementing a curbside program is not a new idea at City Hall.

But like some other projects, the Bakken oil play and its impact has dominated precious time and resources in Dickinson in the past few years. Despite not having a pickup program, however, Dickinson Solid Waste Manager Aaron Praus pointed out that the city offers recycling options.

"Currently, we have three drop sites around town, along with the city's baler building, that accept cardboard, un-bagged vegetation, aluminum cans, metals, cold ashes, used oils and co-mingled paper products, which we just added in the past month," Praus said. "If somebody says that there isn't recycling in Dickinson, there definitely is. We just haven't gotten into the plastics side of things. A lot of the newcomers coming to the state question why we don't have recycling here. Some people are used to 100 percent recycling, which we don't have, but we do have some."

The general consensus -- from surveys the city has conducted and other feedback received -- seems to be that Dickinson is ready for curbside recycling, but making it a reality will take more effort, said Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel.

"Curbside recycling is a goal that will require many variables to come into sharper focus before it can become a reality," Kessel said. "Our survey of Dickinson residents from a few years ago indicates that residents desire such a service."

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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