Local News

County rejects recycling, Parkway pulled

SEBRING Highlands County residents won’t see curbside recycling for several months, at least. At the request of County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete, commissioners turned down the latest proposal from Republic Services of Florida. Last year, commissioners rejected a proposal from Choice Environmental. The county would have to pay $1.5 million for recycling carts for more than 35,400 households, and it would lose from $233,000 to $255,000 per year, Gavarrete estimated. “However,” Gavarrete added in a memo to commissioners, “the annual cost for curbside collection services is estimated at approximately $1,095,984 or once-weekly curbside collection of recyclables and $947,304 for biweekly collection.”
The solid waste fund doesn’t have that much money, Gavarrete told the commissioners. “Over the past two fiscal years, the solid waste fund balance has grown approximately by $400,000 per year. A rough estimate of the solid waste trust fund balance as of the end of the 2012 fiscal year is $1,500,000.” “Even though the county would be able to absorb the cost of processing and transfer of recyclables,” Gavarrete wrote, “the county cannot absorb the estimated cost of collection services.” Chairman Jack Richie wasn’t satisfied with that answer. Research the problem again and report to the commission in 30 days, he said. “Mr. Gavarrete is shaking his head,” Commissioner Ron Handley said. “How many days do you need?” “Putting out another proposal, I don’t know what else to change in the (request for proposals,” Gavarrete said. The problem, he said, is bringing the cost of collecting recycled glass, paper, metal and plastic in line with the price it can be sold for. As more counties recycle, the supply is going up and the price is coming down. “Commissioners, I really do not believe you are going to make the program pay for itself,” he said. What does Florida require, Commissioner Greg Harris asked? “The statue right now has a goal,” Gavarrete said. Counties of 100,000 population should be recycling 25 percent of their solid waste by 2014, and 75 percent by 2020. Highlands County residents and businesses are bringing about 12 percent to their trash to recycling bins. Because the county can now count yard waste, the percentage is a little higher this year, said Gavarrete’s assistant, Bob Diefendorf. Gavarrete was asked to come back in 45 to 60 days. Without discussion, County Administrator June Fisher pulled Sebring Parkway Phase II from the agenda. “We’re going to be meeting this afternoon on this issue; we’ll know more later,” County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete said. Gavarrete was ready to proceed a year ago on the portion between Youth Care Lake and U.S. 27. However, then-commissioner Barbara Stewart objected to what she called a “suicide lane” between Highlands Regional Medical Center and the offices across South Highlands Avenue. In that third lane, northbound and southbound drivers can turn left. Gavarrete went back to the drawing board. The original design plans have been finalized and permitted, he stated to commissioners on Tuesday’s agenda. That design requires right-of-way to be purchased for a portion of four properties and would require acquisition of one additional parcel for a retention pond. That design also includes an eight-foot-wide multiuse path on the hospital side of the road. All three alternatives include a roundabout at the intersection of Sebring Parkway and Medical Center Avenue. The original design would cost from $8.2 to $9.9 million, but the state would pay about $3.8 million. Alternate 1 eliminates what Gavarrete termed “the continuous, two-way, left-turn lane.” HRMC property would be exchanged to allow the retention pond. Alternate 2 needs 320 square feet of additional right of way at Youth Care Lane for northbound vehicles to turn right. Alternate 3 needs no additional right of way but Youth Care Lane would be realigned. It does not include a dedicated northbound right turn lane. Florida Department of Transportation engineers have scheduled a public information workshop in two weeks to discuss four-laning U.S. 98 east of U.S. 27 by 2035. The road currently carried 8,000 vehicles a day; by 2035 traffic may reach 25,000 per day. FDOT currently owns 100 feet of right of way; it needs either 155 or 185 feet for a 4-lane project. More info: Project manager Aaron Kaster, P.O. Box 1249, Bartow, FL 33831, 863-519-2495, or www.us98highlands.com/Public_Involvement.php


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