Trash hauler fined in Aspen |

Trash hauler fined in Aspen

ASPEN ” Trash hauler Waste Management has agreed to pay $42,500 in fines to Aspen City Hall as part of a plea agreement stemming from the firm’s failure to comply with the city’s recycling laws.

By doing so, Waste Management avoided going to a trial scheduled Wednesday in Aspen Municipal Court. The plea deal, approved by Judge Brooke Peterson, called for Waste Management to plead guilty to seven counts in exchange for the dismissal of six charges levied by the city. The fines will go into the city’s general fund.

“The goal of the prosecution is that the haulers comply with the [recycling] ordinance,” Assistant City Attorney Jim True said in yesterday’s proceedings. “Certainly our goal is that there will be no future violations.”

Waste Management’s attorney participated in the nearly 10-minute hearing via speaker phone.

“The underlying issues have been resolved,” Dillon-based lawyer Kimberly Viergever told Peterson and True.

Viergever did not return a message seeking further comment. Mike Andruzak, who works at the Houston-based firm’s Carbondale office, would not comment for this story.

Wednesday’s hearing marked Waste Management’s latest run-in with the city over the recycling ordinance.

Before the ordinance took effect in November 2005, Waste Management filed a lawsuit against the city challenging the initiative. Waste Management had argued that the new law would establish a “rate design” in violation of a state statute that prohibits government rate-setting for trash collection. The suit was eventually dismissed.

In the meantime, Waste Management, whose website touts its environmental record, apparently skirted the city’s recycling ordinance by charging businesses separately for recycling and trash removal, according to court documents. The ordinance requires garbage haulers to offer recycling services at no additional cost.

Waste Management had hatched agreements with at least 13 businesses in which it either charged separately for recycling or didn’t charge for the service at all if the business did not want it.

City law, however, requires trash haulers to charge a base rate that covers both waste pick-up and recycling. The intent of the law is to entice businesses and individuals to use the recycling service since they’re paying for it anyway.

Waste Management did not overcharge the customers in question, said Jannette Whitcomb, the city’s environmental health coordinator.

But “they weren’t following the guidelines of the ordinance,” she said. “They were not taking the ordinance seriously.”

For two businesses ” Garet Condominiums and Hungarian Lodge ” Waste Management deleted the costs of recycling from their bills because they did not want to use the recycling service, a violation of the city ordinance. Those two charges resulted in separate fines of $20,000.

The 11 others ” Aspen Athletic Club, McDonald’s, Ute City Place, Aspen Center for Physics, Carl’s Pharmacy, Burlingame housing, Aspen Mountain Condos, Aspen Alps, Mountain House Lodge, Alpina House and Belly Up Aspen ” were given itemized bills for trash and recycling. Five of those charges were upheld in the plea agreement, netting fines of $500 each to Waste Management.

Waste Management had struck agreements with the businesses as far back as January 2006; others were made as recently as March 31, the city alleged.

City officials became aware of Waste Management’s practice when they were tipped off by a business earlier this year, Whitcomb said. That led the city to audit Waste Management’s billing practices.

Public records show that Waste Management’s Carbondale office received a letter dated Feb. 14 from the city notifying the company of its infractions. On July 29, the city filed an amended complaint outlining the 13 charges.

“Our goal has been for compliance,” Whitcomb said. “And hopefully they will take this seriously.”

The 13 businesses will not be prosecuted by the city, Whitcomb said, because this particular aspect of the recycling ordinance applies to the waste haulers, not the businesses that use their services.

Whitcomb encouraged businesses that are unclear about recycling ordinance compliance issues to call Ashley Cantrell at 920-5039.

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