A seemingly straightforward request to allot more money for curbside green carts and trash carts sparked an unexpected controversy at the Oct.23 Whitehorse city council meeting.
Elaine Carlyle and Marianne Darragh came before council as delegates to ask that the city consider making the carts bear proof.
Darragh said she doesn’t have curbside pickup, but was concerned about the bins acting as attractants for bears.
“From the first time I saw a waste cart, I knew I’d never want one where I live,” she said. “It continues to surprise me that the inappropriateness of the carts for this northern environment hasn’t been addressed by the city.”
Carlyle said this has been a record year for bear-human interactions.
More than 60 bears have been killed in human-bear conflicts this year. The source of the problem has often been animals which have become accustomed to food sources such as garbage or livestock.
“Purchasing bear-proof carts has value beyond how they perform — which seems to be quite well. It sends a message to residents from the top that the city recognizes the problem and is prepared to help residents solve it,” Darragh said. “The culture around bear awareness is changing in Whitehorse, for the worse.”
Coun. Roslyn Woodcock had some concerns about the bear proofing and said she didn’t want the city to jump the gun just because it had been a bad year for bears until it knew how much of a problem the bin design really was.
“I don’t understand the argument,” she said. “Have we been provided advice from bear experts that the problem is being caused by us?”
Environment Yukon conservation officer Aaron-Koss Young has said the current waste carts are “a smorgasbord” for bears.
In 2013, the city, in partnership with Wildwise Yukon, undertook a trial campaign retrofitting existing carts to make them bear proof. Later, half the residents who installed the kits were found to not be using them.
Council considered pushing the decision back until staff could get them more information on the cost and feasibility of making new carts bear proof. However, there was a catch.
At the Oct. 16 standing committee meeting, staff requested $14,000 from the 2018 budget to add to the already-approved 2017 budget of $15,000. This was to bring the budget to $29,000 for 300 new carts, which was more than the city had anticipated needing this year. The vote to award the money was to take place Oct. 23 but the carts are already ordered and being manufactured.
“It sounds like this contract has already been awarded,” said Coun. Samson Hartland. “That’s unfortunate… There are a few things here that are problematic.”
“The horse is already out of the gate,” said Coun. Rob Fendrick.
With the order for new bins in and the city completely out of bins at the moment, council voted to continue with the purchase. Hartland was the only opposing vote.
Coun. Dan Boyd said he voted in favour “reluctantly.” The contract should not have been awarded without council approval and the city has “pushed itself into a corner,” he said.
“I’m not in favour of any more carts until we get this sorted out. Are we going to have bear proof bins or are we not?” he said.
Contact Lori Fox at Lori.Fox@yukon-news.com