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Shannon Nickinson: Northwest Florida governments fighting over recycling

 Here in Northwest Florida even the matter of who is recycling and who is just moving trash around has a political undertone.

The closure of West Florida Recycling left the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority, the City of Pensacola and Santa Rosa County without a processors for the recyclables we so dutiful sort into the appropriate, color-coded bin.

But the shutdown of West Florida should have come to exactly zero people as a surprise. It had come to the attention of regulators with the state Department of Environmental Protection and was in financial straits for several months.

ECUA trucked its recyclables first to Marietta, Ga., and now is trucking them to Montgomery. Perhaps later this month, the board will formalize that arrangement for the longer term, according to spokeswoman Nathatlie Bowers. The board will consider a two-year contract to use the Montgomery facility to process ECUA’s recyclables at its May 29 meeting.

In Pensacola and in Santa Rosa County though, it turns out we’ve been recycling in spirit only for a month or so.

Recyclables collected in those areas have been going to the landfill, which is disappointing in more ways than one.

In particular it shows the way that — too often — our civic progress seems balanced on tenterhooks.

Are we really an improperly stored and covered stack of recyclables away from our entire curbside recycling infrastructure falling apart?

Is that all it takes to bring the program to its knees? And if we had a hint that might be the case, why didn’t we have a backup plan in place an awful lot sooner?

Curbside recycling is a service that 21st century communities provide to their residents. It is not “newfangled.” It is a basic service as important as potable water and reliable garbage service.

Now the game of who is REALLY recycling and who is just taking up trash twice a week has become another twist in the politically nasty saga of garbage in the county.

See, Escambia County owns the landfill, and charges a $44-per-ton tipping fee.

ECUA has made public its intentions to seek another destination for its trash. County officials have said the loss of that revenue would force the landfill to close, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

ECUA says it is trying to get the best deal it can for its customers, and that may mean taking their trash elsewhere.

The failure of West Florida Recycling brought those buried tensions to the surface — and now involve other local government agencies.

Santa Rosa has taken RFPs for a longer-term fix, but commissioners won’t take it up until June some time, with no guarantee they’ll make a final decision then.

The City of Pensacola is still in the “looking into it” mode.

The one option no one has put forward: Creating a regional plan that includes all of the entities that haul and collect trash and recycling in the two (or even three) county area so that next time, we won’t be a rainstorm away from losing our recycling service.

Here we are, in 2014, once again, fighting over scraps.

Shannon Nickinson is a columnist who lives in Pensacola. Follow her at twitter.com/snickinson. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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