Bear-resistant toter deadline is approaching; enforcement is delayed

Commissioners came to a consensus at the July Town Board meeting on Thursday that the deadline for residential trash pickup customers to purchase bear-resistant toters remains fixed on Aug. 1, but enforcement will not begin until the waiting list at Reeves Hardware in Highlands has been cleared.

Mayor Pat Taylor said he expects that to happen towards the end of the year.

Commissioner Amy Patterson said extending the deadline could lead to a similar backlog in the future and suggested maintaining the Aug. 1 deadline with delayed enforcement.

“I can’t penalize somebody if they’ve procrastinated, let’s give them an opportunity to get it,” she said. “But as soon as Reeves doesn’t have a backlog, I say we start enforcing it.”

In August 2019, the Town of Highlands required all residential trash pick-up customers to have a bear-resistant toter by Aug.1, 2020. A major supplier of the required toters is Reeves Hardware and Town Manager Josh Ward said there’s currently a waiting list.

“They have a waiting list of about 80 people,” said Ward. “They ordered about 200, but they received only a handful and were sold out immediately. They do not know when they’ll get all 200 in, but there is definitely a backlog at Reeves.”

The deadline to purchase a bear-resistant toter remains the same but enforcement is delayed.

Commissioners are aware there are other ways to purchase a toter and there are more expensive models available but felt this was a fair way to address the issue.

The approval did not need to come to a vote, as long as the Board reached a consensus on the policy.

Mayor Pat Taylor said the requirement to purchase a toter was made last year to minimize the problem with bears getting into trash and for the health and safety of the Town’s sanitation workers. Bear resistant toters are lifted using a mechanical arm on the truck; regular trash cans force crews to lift the cans themselves which has affected the Town’s Workman’s Comp costs.

Taylor added if the Town were to purchase the toters for customers, it would cost approx. $800,000-$1M and sanitation rates would have to be increased.

“By people buying them, it helps us hold down our rates on residential pickup because we’d have to charge a lot more money for residential rates, and right now $20 is a real good value for two pick-ups a week,” he said. “I appreciate the people in town who have already bought the toters and I hope the rest of the people purchase them as soon as possible.”

Public Works Director Lamar Nix said about 60%-70% of residential customers have purchased toters and that has already helped reduce problems with bears.

“The bear situation has very much improved,” said Nix. “They’re not 100% bear-proof, but they’re pretty close to it. And that situation has helped. The problem we’ve had with the bears are predominantly with the people who do not have toters. Of course, until we get compliance with that, the guys are still picking up a lot of heavy cans, especially when we have wet weather. As soon as we get compliance with it, everybody will be better off on many levels.”

Law against feeding bears in the works

Taylor and several commissioners recently met with Cynthia Strain from the B.E.A.R. (Bear Education and Resources) Task Force, and Ashley Hobbs, Biologist from the NC Wildlife and Resources Commission in charge of the BearWise program; to discuss making Highlands a BearWise Community and other bear related issues, including feeding bears.

“We discussed the feeding of bears, which has become a problem in Highlands,” said Taylor. “Some VRBOs even encourage people to throw out their dinner scraps in their yard to entice bears to come and eat so they’ll be able to see a bear while they’re staying at a VRBO in Highlands.”

Hobbs said NC Wildlife Resources does not have a law that prohibits feeding bears, it needs to be a municipal ordinance. Taylor and Patterson each wrote up drafts of ordinances with some input from Hobbs and hoped to present it to the board at the meeting on July 15, but more work needs to be done

“I was thinking we might have something to give to the board of commissioners tonight, but we need to go back with the staff, talk with the chief of police and code enforcement officer and come up with a more specific ordinance to put before the board to consider,” said Taylor.

For Highlands to become a BearWise Community, Taylor said there needs to be an educational component and a process to receive feedback from the community on bear-related issues. To set that up, more work needs to be done.

“I really think what we need is to do more work on this relationship on how we would work with B.E.A.R Task Force and others,” said Taylor. For instance the idea of bear webpage that identifies bear sightings or activities was discussed, but all of these things need to be discussed further and we’ll be working with staff, B.E.A.R Task Force, and BearWise Committee to come up with a more definitive structure for that relationship.”

Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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