Environment

A bill introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly would change the relationship between Louisville Metro government and suburban cities when it comes to waste management. It could also chip away at county-wide initiatives such as a ban on plastic yard waste bags.

Democratic Rep. Steve Riggs and Republican Rep. Jerry Miller, both of Louisville, introduced House Bill 454. It would only affect Jefferson County, which has both a merged city-county government and incorporated cities.

In Jefferson County, a waste management district commonly referred to as the 109 Board oversees waste in the district. The 109 Board is made up of five representatives, all appointed by the mayor.

Riggs said the board, its makeup and its powers have raised concerns in Jefferson County’s suburban cities, such as Middletown, Jeffersontown and St. Matthews.

“I think that these cities, the mayors, have some concern that the district 109 members are edging into the cities’ ability and power with local control over their own waste management contracts,” he said.

Calls to the offices of Jeffersontown Mayor Bill Dieruf and St. Matthews Mayor Rick Tonini weren’t returned Monday morning.

The 109 Board flew under the public’s radar until 2014, when the board approved a measure banning plastic yard waste bags county-wide.

When leaves are bagged in plastic, waste-haulers can’t compost the leaves because they’re contaminated by the plastic. Under the new rule, county residents are required to use non-plastic bags, such as paper yard waste bags or reusable containers.

If House Bill 454 becomes law, it would mean the board wouldn’t have the power to require suburban cities to do anything more than comply with state and federal laws, nullifying the ban in certain areas of Jefferson County.

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, said his office is still studying the bill but has serious concerns about it.

“We have policies and practices on how we manage our waste in this community that are consistent across all of Louisville-Jefferson County,” he said. “This would undo that and replace it with a patchwork of inconsistent practices and policies. All these strategies we’re working on towards saving the landfill, reducing our waste, that would potentially put all of that in peril.”

Kentucky Conservation Committee President-Elect Sarah Lynn Cunningham said the bill is unnecessary. She pointed to the bag ban’s success in the first year of its implementation. The city has said the compliance rate in 2015 was 99.85 percent.

“For a city the size of Louisville, that is a remarkably successful rule,” Cunningham said.

She added that Jefferson County has one landfill, and to have trucks from different neighborhoods delivering waste governed by different rules to the landfill is impractical.

“I think this is a logistical nightmare, and more importantly, I don’t think we have a problem that needs to get fixed anyway,” she said.

The plastic bag ban is the subject of another line of legislative attack as well. Metro Councilman Kelly Downard has introduced an ordinance to again permit plastic yard waste bags in the county. It is scheduled for a hearing in a Metro Council committee on Tuesday.

Riggs said his bill isn’t intended to specifically address the yard waste bag ban, citing instead suburban cities’ worries that the 109 Board would push wet-dry recycling on them, which he called a “very radical way to recycle.”

Wet-dry recycling — where foods, liquids and other wet waste is separated from other waste — has been rolled out in Louisville’s Central Business District, though it hasn’t been expanded further.

“There’s a concept in state law referred to as ‘home rule,’ which is where cities are given certain rights and privileges,” Miller said. “And this [109 Board] effectively, it shouldn’t be trumping that home rule.”

The bill would also change the makeup of Jefferson County’s 109 Waste Management District Board, the existence of which is required under state law. Currently, board members are appointed by the mayor, but the bill would require they also be approved by Metro Council. It would also change the makeup of the board, requiring one member to be from a small city and another to be from the solid waste industry.

The bill is set to go before the House Committee on Local Government, of which Riggs is the chairman.

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.