June 03, 2002 11:00 pm

By Ray Linker

Observer Staff Writer

La Grande residents say they would like to recycle more, and the state Department of Environmental Quality is ready to let them.

While the city has several recycling programs going, DEQ has advised the city that its recycling efforts are not meeting state standards and that it has two options:

• Begin weekly curbside service for city residents on the day garbage is picked up; or

• Begin monthly, at least, curbside recycling service, including several program options.

And do it by Dec. 31, DEQ has stated.

The city council will take up the issue at its July 17 meeting.

A survey in 2000 which had 300 respondents showed 54 percent of those residents in favor of curbside recycling.

Whatever the city decides, it will come with a rate increase in garbage collection fees, city officials have said.

Weekly curbside recycling would cost residents $4.64 more a month and every-other-week service would add $2.02 a month to bills, City Garbage Service, the private company that has the franchise for garbage collection in La Grande, reported to the city council in February.

"The council appears to favor the every-other-week option," said Mike Hyde, Community Development Department director. He has asked City Garbage Service "to look at the two options and make a cost estimate to bring to the council on July 17."

Hyde said the curbside recycling would be phased in over about six months but he couldn't say when it would start.

Ron Larvik, owner of City Garbage Service, said he may have to add an additional charge of $1.20 to customers' monthly bills because his cost for dumping at the Fox Hill Landfill west of

La Grande is going up from $17 a ton to $22.

The city has received several letters in support of the increase to cover recycling as well as several opposing the rate increase. Residents who use the garbage collection service would pay the additional fee whether they recycle or not.

Purchase of recycle bins for the 3,300 garbage service users in La Grande would cost $62,287, City Garbage Service has stated.

La Grande has to increase its recycling rate because state laws require Union County to have a recycling rate of 25 percent by 2005. Hyde said La Grande is one of four of 79 cities in Oregon with a population of 4,000 or more which does not have curbside recycling.

The letter to the city from DEQ stated, "An additional recycling effort is needed to bring up and maintain the county's recovery rate at 25 percent." The letter, signed by DEQ eastern region solid waste and tank programs manager Elizabeth Drubak, said that even though disposal has been on the rise, recovery has dropped since the 29 percent rate in 1997.

The last year for which the countywide rate was available is 2000, when it was at 22 percent. The rate for 2001 won't be calculated until later this summer, DEQ reported to the city.

By 2009, DEQ said it estimates that disposal in the county will be between 21,100 tons and 23,300 tons a year and recycling will need to be between 7,000 and 7,800 tons a year in order to reach 25 percent.

City Garbage Service will use its Materials Recovery Facility on Highway 30 to recover recyclables of dry commercial and woody debris from the public, as it does now, but "there needs to be more diversion from the residential waste stream," the letter said.

"It is more likely that the addition of a curbside program will spark greater interest and participation in recycling by residents," the letter stated.

With the Fox Hill Landfill closing in 4fi years, "residential curbside recycling seems to be a practical and reasonable requirement for La Grande at this time," the letter stated.

Under the first option given to the city, that of weekly curbside recycling, DEQ said the city, if it chooses this option, must provide recycling containers to customers, conduct an expanded education and promotion program and choose one of six alternative actions, of which the city's existing yard waste composting program meets the criteria.

If the city chooses the "minimum-monthly curbside recycling" option, it must implement five of the following programs:

• Provide recycling containers to customers.

• Expand education and promotion.

• Provide for multifamily recycling.

• Provide for commercial recycling.

• Provide for yard debris collection and composting.

• Expand collection depots.

• Set residential rates that encourage waste prevention, or

• Provide for commercial food, paper collection and composting.

One alternative recycling program consists of the 24-hour depot on Willow Street to collect newspapers, glass, plastic, cardboard, magazines and mixed waste paper. The Materials Recovery Facility on Highway 30 accepts yard debris and wood waste.

By comparison to Union County, Wasco County, which is of similar population, has a recycling rate of 34 percent n 2000.

Darin Larvik of City Garbage Service said a curbside program in La Grande would increase the amount of recycled material in Union County to 50 percent. People would have to take glass to the recycling depot or treat it as garbage, Larvik said. The depot would be moved to the Materials Recovery Facility on Highway 30 south of La Grande.