Why Steamboat City Council baulked on bear-resistant trash mandate

Matt Stensland
Aces High driver Charlie McAndrew picks up trash along Saratoga Avenue in the Fairview neighborhood Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday, the Steamboat Springs City Council switched direction on a trash can ordinance designed to curb the applet of hungry bears in the summer.
John F. Russell

— After receiving feedback from the public, most Steamboat Springs City Council members now are against requiring residents to buy pricey, bear-resistant trash containers.

On Dec. 16, the City Council voted, 6-1, to approve the first reading of an ordinance that would require residents to buy the beefy trash cans in an effort to curb Steamboat’s nuisance black bear problem.

“I think that vote then raised a lot of public conversation about this,” council member Kenny Reisman said Tuesday when the council discussed the second and final reading of the ordinance. “I’ve kind of gone the other way. I think we’re underestimating the cost to the consumer.”

He was not the only council member to change his or her mind. The council denied the second reading of the ordinance, 6-1, with Sonja Macys being the only proponent.

That does not mean stricter trash rules and stricter enforcement are not in Steamboat’s future.

During its next meeting Jan. 20, the council is expected to review a new ordinance that focuses on commercial dumpsters. In February, the council is expected to consider revising an ordinance, making it easier for the city to enforce current rules in place for residential trash cans.

“It’s not enforceable in a way that can make a difference that we would like to make in this community,” Reisman said about the existing ordinance. “So, let’s get enforcement possibilities out there that we can make a difference on.”

The council already has committed to spending $85,000 or more to bring its own trash containers at parks and public places into compliance. This will address the city’s ethical dilemma when it comes to writing tickets to residents and businesses that do not follow the same trash rules.

“I think this is just us agreeing to move forward and leading by example by cleaning our own house up,” Macys said.

Council members referred to the discussion related to requiring residents to buy bear-resistant trash cans as controversial. Several members of the public spoke Tuesday against the required purchase that would cost residents between $50 and $350 for an approved trash container.

“I don’t think it’s a fair thing for people who don’t have a problem to have to pay for a problem that doesn’t exist,” resident John Fielding said.

Some council members agreed. Reisman shared one discussion he had with a constituent.

“He said, ‘I’ve lived in the same place for 20 years and I’ve never had a bear come because I do the right thing, and now you’re saying I’ve gotta pay because I do the right thing,'” Reisman said.

Steve Weinland, owner of Aces High Services, one of the three trash haulers in Steamboat, said Wednesday that he was disappointed the council was no longer interested in making residents have bear-resistant containers.

“This thing went from saving bears to saving money, and I think that was quite wrong,” Weinland said.

Weinland said he understood how the council members responded to a “vocal minority” of constituents.

“I think pressure gave way to prudence,” Weinland said.

Weinland said he still would be selling the bear-resistant containers to customers who wanted to buy them.

“I want to do my part for the people that want to do their part,” he said.

Jim Haskins, the area wildlife manager with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, attended Tuesday night’s meeting but did not speak. On Wednesday, he said he was not disappointed with how debate has evolved to no longer require residents to buy the bear-resistant containers.

“As long as they move forward with the commercial and city’s issues with trash and enforce it, we think we can make progress,” Haskins aid. “I can live with taking time to work through the residential issues.”

Haskins said he thinks the police department is serious about stepping up enforcement related to trash, including when it can be put outside for pick-up. On Tuesday, the City Council directed the municipal judge to consider increasing the fines for violations.

“If there are not enforcement efforts, nothing they do is going to mean anything,” Haskins said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247, email or follow him on Twitter @SBTStensland

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