Aspen considers tough love to get trash cans bear-proof |

Aspen considers tough love to get trash cans bear-proof

Janet Urquhart

Next year, Aspen homeowners and businesses without bear-proof trash containers may face stiffer fines and a ticket the first time they’re contacted about the violation.

Several members of the City Council indicated Monday they’re willing to get tough next year in the wake of this season’s numerous interactions with bears. With the bears’ natural food sources in short supply as a result of a dry summer, a larger number of them than usual have been foraging for meals in town.

Brian Flynn, the city’s environmental ranger, updated the council on what other mountain communities are doing to keep bears out of trash receptacles and how effective Aspen’s efforts have been. He also asked for direction on what the city should do next year.

Aspen’s public education efforts this summer have been exhaustive, Flynn noted, but many homeowners and businesses do nothing about their garbage containers until they’re contacted by the city.

“What shocks me is a lot of people won’t do anything until I contact them,” he said. “I think, `Why do you have to wait for me to show up?'” Flynn typically gives the offending party a warning before issuing a ticket.

“At what point do we immediately enforce the law and stop doing the courtesy warning?” Flynn asked.

Now, responded Councilman Tom McCabe.

“I think it’s time to get their attention. We’ve been warm and fuzzy for a couple of years now,” he said. “It’s time to slap them upside the head.”

McCabe also suggested the city consider upping its fines. The current penalty is $50 for the first offense, $250 for the second and a mandatory court appearance for the third offense.

“If a fine is $250 for the first time for a homeowner, we’d get their attention right away,” said McCabe, pondering how much money a first offense should cost a business.

The limit for a municipal fine is $1,000, but that could be $1,000 per day for each day a trash container remains in violation, said city attorney John Worcester. Aspen adopted an ordinance last year that requires all trash containers that hold edible refuse to be bear-proof.

Close to 100 homeowners and businesses have been fined this year, Flynn estimated. All of them have complied with the law after being ticketed for a first offense, he said.

Flynn, who has contacted various other communities to discuss their approach to bear trouble, said none of them require daily trash pickup – one idea that Aspen tossed around.

Homeowners are paying an average of $25 for trash pickup once a week, he said. Pickup three times a week would cost about $75, and daily pickup would cost from $175 to more than $200 a week. Given the cost, Flynn said he couldn’t recommend such a move, and local garbage haulers don’t have the equipment or manpower to pick up trash that frequently anyway, he said.

Mayor Rachel Richards suggested the city consider fines and requiring additional garbage pickup when a Dumpster is perennially overflowing, which prevents it from being closed to keep bears out.

“That’s when people should be forced into more frequent pickup,” she said.

Councilman Terry Paulson suggested the city ordinance lacks enough teeth after hearing reports of regular bear raids at the Dumpster behind McDonald’s.

He also expressed concern that local police have been too hard on a cub that frequents the Dumpster after hearing reports of the young bear receiving pepper spray in the face and repeated shots with bean bag-style bags of shot that officers have fired to chase the bear off.

Those are proper approaches to discouraging the bear, according to state wildlife officials, Flynn said. “I know they’re doing the right thing,” he said.

Police Chief Joe Cortez said employees at McDonald’s had been taunting bears with food and that police contacted the restaurant’s regional office and have been assured that workers will be fired for such activity.

“Something like McDonald’s not taking responsibility for their Dumpster is atrocious,” McCabe said.

But Dave Ward, supervisor for the restaurant, said he did not know about the city’s regulations regarding trash Dumpsters until police contacted him recently. The restaurant’s garbage hauler is supposed to install a bear-proof Dumpster today, he said.

Richards suggested setting up a phone line on which tipsters can report such trash container violations to the city.

“People constantly call me,” she said.

Richards also said she was willing to consider upping the fines but then rebating part of the cost to the violator to be spent bear-proofing the offending container.

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