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The City Journals

Still hope for long-term survival of Sandy’s popular bulk-waste pickup program

Aug 11, 2021 12:14PM ● By Justin Adams

Sandy City is trying to figure out a long-term solution for its bulk-waste pickup program, one that doesn’t violate environmental regulations. (Photo courtesy of Sandy City)

By Justin Adams | [email protected]

For many Sandy residents, the city’s curbside bulk waste pickup program is one of the best parts of living here. Twice a year you place a big pile of garbage on the street in front of your house, and Sandy City comes by to pick it up and haul it away to the landfill. However, the program has been in jeopardy, and operating in a bit of a legal limbo, for the past year. Last month, the City Council received an update from council attorney Tracy Cowdell on the effort to save the program.

“This is one of the most beloved programs in Sandy City,” said Cowdell, one that “goes back at least 45 years.”

In fact, the city’s not sure when the program started because at least officially, it never did.

“We couldn’t find the origin of the bulk waste program, meaning there’s no authority for doing it. There’s no ordinance or written policy. It’s one of those things where we’ve just always done it, so we’re just going to keep doing it,” Cowdell said. 

That lack of a legal framework for the program to operate within is one obstacle that Cowdell has been working on in recent months. Together with a team of environmental attorneys, he has developed an ordinance that he believes will allow the city to continue curb-side bulk waste pickup.

That draft ordinance hasn’t yet reached the council yet, however. Before it gets to that point, Cowdell wants to make sure it “passes the muster” of the Department of Environmental Quality. 

From the DEQ’s perspective, Sandy’s program potentially violates its storm drain permit. When some residents leave toxic materials out on their curb, it contaminates the water flowing into the storm drains which empty into the Jordan river and then on to the Great Salt Lake. 

Wanting to avoid a potential hefty fine from the DEQ, the city administration made plans last spring to leave the program behind. But that proposal was not popular with much of the city. The City Council pushed to have the program reinstated while they worked to figure out a more long-term solution. 

Working with the DEQ has been the other task assigned to Cowdell. 

“We reached out to DEQ and had some initial conversations with them. They had some perceptions about what was happening in Sandy. Some of those perceptions were correct but some of them weren’t,” he said. 

The basis of the city’s draft ordinance, which Cowdell plans to present to the DEQ in the coming weeks, is an increased focus on enforcement. The city would have to show that it’s serious about keeping toxic materials out of the storm drain system by dispatching code enforcement officers to issue fines for people in violation.

Budgetarily, the extra code enforcement work could represent an increased expense for a program that’s already subsidized by the general fund. But Cowdell pointed out that the fines and fees collected could help offset those costs. 

The plan to move ahead with seeking approval from the DEQ was met favorably by the council. 

“The approach you’re taking is spot on. We don’t want to go rogue and pass something that just isn’t going to fly. I’d rather know the answer to the question first,” said Council member Zach Robinsion.

Council member Monica Zoltanski raised one concern in regards to the “limits of enforcement.” For example, how would the city handle a situation where someone comes to a neighborhood in the middle of the night and dumps something that violates the new regulation?

Council member Brooke Christensen also recommended that they start incorporating an administrative law enforcement perspective into the drafting of the ordinance, in order to come up with the amounts for the fines.