New trash rules get tossed out

Mayor rejects plan with 3-bag limit

Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy wants the Lynn City Council to create a trash ordinance that is practical and easy to understand. Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy wants the Lynn City Council to create a trash ordinance that is practical and easy to understand. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File)
By John Laidler
Globe Correspondent / July 17, 2011

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Lynn officials are trying to forge new trash collection rules after Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy vetoed a recently adopted trash ordinance she said was overly restrictive.

Ward 3 Councilor Darren Cyr, chairman of the City Council’s Ordinances Committee, said he has begun working with city departments, the Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce, and others to work out the details of a new proposal.

“It’s a work in progress,’’ he said.

The ordinance that the council approved June 22 was intended to tighten curbside trash collection rules to promote recycling and alleviate the litter and rodent problems city officials say are being caused by large amounts of poorly contained rubbish being left out for collection.

“Lynn has a very serious rat problem, and one of the reasons is that people do not put their trash in covered containers,’’ Cyr said. “They put their bags out on the sidewalks, so rats as well as dogs and trash pickers go around and get in the bags,’’ resulting in trash being strewn onto sidewalks and streets.

Among the provisions in the ordinance, which Cyr said was drafted by the city’s Department of Public Works and its Public Health Division and adopted following a public hearing, was a new rule limiting to three the number of barrels that could be placed curbside for collection.

The ordinance also required that all trash be placed in heavy-duty plastic bags, which in turn would have to be placed in barrels. Cyr said that rule is in the city’s existing trash ordinance, but has been widely ignored.

In a July 1 letter to the council announcing her veto, Kennedy cited the three-barrel limit rule as one of her concerns with the ordinance.

“If residents are faced with the dilemma of putting out three small trash cans per week or risk being fined, I suspect that many may choose to accumulate trash on their property to place for collection at a later date,’’ the mayor said. “This would only exacerbate the rodent problem we have in the city, and would also put the resident at risk of being fined for violation of our ordinances to keep property free of debris.’’

The Lynn Area Chamber of Commerce also objected to the three-bag rule, according to Leslie Gould, the group’s executive director.

Some businesses view a three-bag limit as too restrictive given their trash volume, Gould said, and “some businesses truly don’t have the space to store the trash appropriately. So it’s a health issue. The goal is to get the trash off the street.’’

Kennedy also objected to the ordinance’s requirements that barrels not exceed a capacity of 32 gallons, and that bags not exceed a capacity of 28 gallons.

“Most of the trash barrels I have observed throughout the city far exceed’’ 32 gallons in capacity, Kennedy said.

Similarly, she said the smallest outdoor trash bag sold at various stores has a capacity of 30 gallons.

“This ordinance has been through many amendments and refinements over the years, and the result is now a patchwork of unrealistic, confusing, and arcane provisions,’’ Kennedy wrote. “I believe it is time for the council to start from scratch and create an entirely new ordinance that is practical and easy to understand and sets out clear and sensible expectations of the residents.’’

Cyr said of the mayor, “I wish she had taken a better look at it before the public hearing,’’ noting that the ordinance adopted by the council was developed through collaboration with city departments over a three-month period.

Similarly, he said he only became aware of the chamber’s concern with the three-bag limit after the ordinance was passed. Gould said the chamber was not aware the requirement was being placed on businesses.

Cyr said he was not disappointed with the veto, however, because “it gives us an opportunity to go back to the business community and say, ‘Let’s try to make this work for everyone.’ ’’

Mary Chalmers, Kennedy’s executive assistant, said, ”We will be working with the departments and the Ordinance Committee to redraft the ordinance.”

Cyr said he believes there is merit to a three-barrel limit, noting that it would allow a household to put out 7,800 pounds of trash a year, more than the 6,500 or so a typical household now puts out.

He said the barrel limit would help Lynn achieve a goal of encouraging more recycling, thus lowering the city’s trash costs.

But Cyr said he anticipated a compromise that might, for instance, adjust the curbside limit to four barrels a week.

He said concerns with the maximum size of barrels and bags could be easily addressed through tweaks in the ordinance language.

Cyr highlighted other features of the ordinance that he said made sense, including a new requirement that businesses receiving city trash collection participate in curbside recycling.

City Council president Timothy Phelan said he was also not disappointed with the veto of the ordinance, noting that “some good concerns’’ had been raised, which the council would now have the opportunity to address in a new draft.

“I have to give Darren credit,’’ Phelan said of Cyr. He’s working hard to put an ordinance through with input from everyone. . . . He’s addressing a legitimate issue in the city when it comes to rat problems. Because [the ordinance] is imperfect, he’s willing to go back to the drawing boards and continue to modify it.’’