Fort Smith’s city administrator addressed the public Tuesday at a Board of Directors meeting after the fact that residents’ recycling has been dumped into a landfill instead of being recycled since November came to light.
“The lack of communication with the public is solely down to my responsibility as city administrator,” City Administrator Carl Geffken said.
Geffken told the Times Record on Monday that the city had been dumping recycling in a landfill without notifying residents, which was published in the Times Record on Tuesday. When the city's contract with Smurfit KAPPA expired in September 2014, the city began taking recyclables to Green Source Recycling Center in Clarksville.
“Over time, Green Source reduced the amount of material it could take from Fort Smith, due in part to limits on the amount of material they could process according to their permit from ADEQ,” a news release states. “Mark Schlievert, Director of Sanitation since April of 2016, developed a Request For Proposals for single-stream recycling services in October 2016, due by the end of the year. By early November, Green Source closed its single-stream processing line. With no vendor accepting recyclables, the city chose to dispose of such material in the landfill until the city could secure a recycling processing contract.”
Geffken said that he did not notify residents that their recycling was no longer being recycled because he was in the process of finding another way to recycle without charging residents an additional fee for recycling, which is currently included in the cost of sanitation, and that the city has been negotiating with MARCK Industries Inc. for several months.
“By no means was it anything related to active deception or conspiracy,” Geffken said at Tuesday's meeting.
Recycling trucks have continued to pick up recycling. The Times Record reached out to Geffken and Schlievert on Tuesday to learn how much money it costs to operate the recycling trucks, how many trucks there are, how many employees operate the trucks and how much recycling has been dumped into the landfill. Geffken stated via email that they would need to compile that information.
At the meeting, Geffken said 1,478 tons of recycling had been dumped in the landfill.
At-large Director Tracy Pennartz asked Geffken whether the recyclable material could be placed in a separate area of the landfill until city officials find a place to take it to be recycled. Geffken said they would look into that option.
Three Fort Smith residents addressed Geffken, Mayor Sandy Sanders and the Board of Directors at a town hall meeting after the regular board meeting.
“I was saddened and really puzzled by the fact that I had to find out about this on Facebook, and had I not taken the initiative myself to take time out of my day to call the director, I would not have know about it,” said Lacey Jennen, who is also a Fort Smith Parks and Recreation commissioner.
Jennen said she saw a Facebook post that stated recycling was going to a landfill instead of to a recycling center and then confirmed that that was true with the sanitation director. She said her family of five avidly recycle, and that she was shocked and upset to learn that despite their efforts to recycle, the items were being dumped with the regular trash without her knowledge.
“Besides that, I was really upset that we didn’t know about it,” she said. “Transparency and information go a long way, and I think that my reaction would have been a little bit different had we received a notification explaining unforeseen circumstances.”
Geffken told Jennen that that was totally understandable and that the city should have sent out a notification.
“I have never been so disappointed in my local government than I am today,” Robbie Wilson said.
Wilson asked how having recycling trucks still picking up recycling was not considered deceptive.
“By not making it public and then carrying on as if there was nothing wrong at all is just, frankly, unacceptable,” he said.
Geffken reiterated that although he should have notified residents, city officials were working on finding a way to recycle the materials.
“There was no intent at all to hide the truth,” Sanders added. “It was just a lack of letting people know.”