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Fort Nelson takes out the trash

Mayor says garbage pickup key to district's growth
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Residents in Fort Nelson can soon scrap their regular trips to the dump.

Starting in late June, the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality will have city-run, curbside solid waste collection each week.

The service is applicable to households formerly serviced by Wide Sky Disposal's "bag-and-tag" pickup, including the core townsite residential area north of the Alaska Highway.

Currently, Wide Sky Disposal operates a tag service twice a week, but Mayor Bill Streeper said municipal involvement in curbside collection is the next step in the town's evolution.

"Communities, when they get to a certain size, all have mandatory pickup," said Streeper. "This program takes Fort Nelson and modernizes the community. It's part of the growing process."

The service will reach approximately 1,100 households initially, which is roughly half of Fort Nelson's 2,317 dwellings.

However, households outside the core residential area will still have service options from private contractors, officials said.

Mike Gilbert, Community Development Officer, said residential curbside collection is part of NRRM's plan to be proactive ahead of the population growth that's expected to come from increasing natural gas development in the area.

Given an affirmative final investment decision, Streeper said he expects Fort Nelson to grow in population by four times, reaching 15,000 to 20,000 people by 2030. The town, which currently has about 4,000 people within its borders, already has plans drawn up for subdivisions to service a population of 15,000 people.

"Northern Rockies is gearing up to meet real growth and anticipated growth," said Gilbert. "We've maintained contact with the Fort Macs of the world to draw from their experiences, and one of their consistent messages is to be prepared. Be proactive. And that's what we're doing."

As part of that vision, NRRM has secured an infrastructure funding agreement with the province and is setting aside land for the subdivisions. Of the four major gas plays in British Columbia, three are covered by the NRRM: the Horn River, Cordova and Liard Basins.

NRRM had been looking at curbside collection for a couple years, said Streeper and Gilbert, but the idea was forced onto the town's agenda last September when Wide Sky Disposal served notice that its voluntary tag service was no longer viable.

As a courtesy, officials gave one month's notice that they would not continue the residential pickup in the downtown core, but the municipality persuaded them to continue until there was an alternative.

When the city put out a Request for Proposals, Wide Sky Disposal was the successful bidder for the universal service.

The curbside collection bylaw will be presented Monday to Regional Council for its first three readings, and may be passed as soon as May 28.

The first two months will be operated at no charge to residents, after which a quarterly fee will be applied to homeowners' water and sewer bills.

Fort St. John was one of the communities NRRM studied in putting together its garbage proposal. The same kind of wheeled bins used in Fort St. John will be employed in Fort Nelson.

In Fort St. John, the first garbage collection bylaw was passed in 1952 when the population was around 5,000, according to Janet Prestley, that city's director of legislative and administrative services.

"When you consider the price to grab some bags, drive it down to the dump and dispose of it yourself, we're probably going to (charge) about what you'd spend on gas," said Streeper. "And who wants to do that?"