By Carol Stiffler
This June, residents of the village of Newberry will say goodbye to the village’s waste hauling truck and will see Green for Life Environmental (GFL) garbage trucks. By June 30, no other hauler will be able to pick up waste in the village limits.
That new rule, in place under Newberry’s Ordinance 13, pretty much only excludes Zellar Sanitation, the Manistique-based company that about half of Newberry relies on. Another 40% of Newberry’s households use the village trash service. Others self-haul to the transfer station.
Some village residents have taken exception to the change, which they feel unfairly excludes a local business and will ultimately result in higher costs.
“Forcing a company out of town like that is just completely tyrannical, and it’s not OK,” said Newberry resident Jonathan Powers, who has been a Zellar Sanitation customer since he moved here in 2017. “That should all be optional.”
Powers would have preferred the village stop offering trash service rather than switch to an exclusive hauling company.
“That’s fine. They can get out of the trash business,” he said. “People can haul it themselves, or they can get hold of Zellars or GFL. [The village] can even make an agreement with GFL to come and take over what they were doing. But to ban a private company from coming into town and servicing customers it had for years, especially when most of the town already had that company, it’s insane.”
Powers printed contact information for the Village Council members and Village Manager Allison Watkins and distributed it to houses in part of Newberry, with a message urging residents to let the village know that it is not OK to force residents to use a designated waste hauler.
“Should we just roll with it? Should we bend our knee to tyranny? On principle, I don’t think we should,” Powers said. ”That’s what I feel this is right now. With so much of that going on at the state and federal level these days, it makes it so much more upsetting when it hits here at home.”
GFL became the exclusive contract hauler after having the winning bid in response to the village’s request for proposals, which went out in October 2021. The request asked for a quote in November 2021 for weekly pickup with carts provided, curbside recycling, and bulky item pick-up. The village, faced with the need to replace an aging garbage truck, was studying what to do next.
“GFL and Zellar both submitted bid documents,” said Village Manager Allison Watkins. “GFL’s overall ability to provide the amenities we were looking for, at the prices they were going to charge, were lower than what Zellar proposed.”
The Zellar Sanitation bid did not include curbside recycling, Watkins said, but made it optional for an additional $8 per pick-up. Extra bags of trash would also result in additional charges. One bulky item would be allowed per month, at a cost of $40 per item.
Additional features included in the GFL quote were a glass recycling container at the Waste Management transfer station, two bulky item pick-ups per year with three items each per residence, and six 30-yard roll-off dumpsters for large-scale cleanup.
After considering the options, Watkins said the council felt it was in the best interest of the entire village to cease village waste operations and to contract with a single hauler. That is also the method used by most municipalities in Michigan, Watkins said.
“We did look at trying to keep what people would consider a more local company,” Watkins said. “We had to go with who provided the best rates.”
Watkins has heard much from the community since the trash decision was announced. Some people are already switching to GFL, she said. Others are protesting, and don’t think the village can force them to switch.
“By law, we can,” Watkins said. “Ordinance 13, the solid waste ordinance, gives the village council the authority to determine garbage pickup. Whether it’s by the village itself, or a single hauler contract, or nothing at all.”
Ordinance 13 was originally adopted in 1987. It was amended in 2008, and amended again in March of this year. The amended ordinance was published in its entirety in the Newberry News on March 23, 2022.
Newberry resident Brandy Marks, currently a Zellar Sanitation customer, has been vocal in opposition to the change to GFL. She has assembled a group of residents who prefer to keep Zellar Sanitation and is looking into a potential loophole – that businesses can agree to have a Zellar dumpster on their property, which can collect the trash for 8-10 Zellar customers each.
Marks doubts the village technically has the legal right to select an exclusive waste hauler.
“I feel if the people are the ones to pay for the service, they should be able to choose who they do business with,” Marks said. “We have gone so long going with our own providers; why is it all of a sudden a problem?”
Marks plans to speak at the next council meeting to ask the council to amend Ordinance 13.
“I would like the residents to know that they have more power than they know,” she said. “To not listen when someone says there is nothing you can do about it. To read the 49-page ‘General Law Village Act, Act 3 of 1895’. To know that we are stronger in numbers and to believe in themselves.”