Aspen’s bear-proof trash container law getting more teeth
ASPEN – Officials are putting more teeth into a law that, if passed, will require every Aspen resident to have wildlife-resistant garbage cans.
As it stands now, people can place unsecured trash cans outside of their homes on the day of pick up. If the Aspen City Council approves proposed changes to the current law, that will no longer be allowed.
It’s unclear how many people the law would affect but Aspen Police Sgt. Bill Linn estimated that it’s significant. If passed by the council in the coming weeks, individuals would be required to buy a wildlife-resistant container, which can cost hundreds of dollars.
“You cannot just put a trash bag at the curb,” Linn said.
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Another change that is expected to be voted on would limit the times a wildlife-resistant container can be outside to between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., thus limiting bears’ access to human food sources.
While the council approved stringent rules for wildlife-resistant containers in 2008, last year’s busy and taxing bear season presented some flaws in the code, according to Linn.
The present code also requires that refuse containers must have the street address and unit number permanently affixed to the garbage can with digits no smaller than in 2 inches in height. It’s the responsibility of the police department to maintain a database of garbage cans, which Linn characterizes as “nearly impossible.”
“It’s awfully difficult to track that information,” he said.
An amendment to the code would make it the responsibility of trash haulers to identify each container and the client who is responsible for it.
“This proposed change will greatly increase our ability to contact the responsible refuse container owner regarding issues of non-compliance or to resolve any damage of a bear intrusion,” Linn wrote in a memo to the council.
Linn said trash haulers who operate within city limits have been consulted on the proposed amendment and are on board with it, Linn said.
Another hole that’s been recognized in the current law is that there is no mechanism to require wildlife-resistant containers at construction sites. Currently, construction sites must have a designated container for refuse that is edible to wildlife, which can be either wildlife resistant or emptied at the end of the workday and then secured inside a trailer or building.
But a problem still exists at construction sites where human food waste is being placed into roll-off Dumpsters, attracting bears.
Last summer, a woman was attacked by a bear in her home in the Castle Creek basin. The victim said the bear had been in the vicinity probably because of food left at a nearby construction site.
The proposed amendment requires construction sites to have wildlife-resistant containers in conjunction with on-site, roll-off Dumpsters.
Linn said the proposed changes are before the council now in anticipation of the bears waking up from hibernation in search of food.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the rush,” he said. “Our timing is to get this in place to educate people.”
Linn said police made 600 contacts with people last year who had run-ins with bears on their property as a result of human food sources being readily available. Twenty of those individuals were issued tickets for non-compliance.
“Fines are the last resort,” he said, adding 92 percent of the people the police came into contact with corrected the problem. “We would rather educate people.”
People who are found out of compliance after being warned face a $250 for the first offense; the second offense is $500; and the third offense is $999 with a mandatory court appearance.
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