Freight train might be just getting stoked

EDITOR'S NOTEBOOK

BY ART CULLEN

Is that a freight train whistle coming round the bend? The Storm Lake City Council is studying whether to impose mandatory garbage collection on every residence in The City Beautiful, and the steam is starting to build against it. When long-time local Norm Lund shows up to ask that his freedom to haul his own trash to the dump be respected, the council might want to reconsider.

Remember the railroad crossings?

Mandatory garbage collection could trigger the same sort of opposition.

Like the railroad crossings, it sort of popped out of the blue. Council members are concerned about residential garbage deposited in commercial dumpsters, downtown and in the parks, and county officials long have complained about people dumping in the road ditches.

It came up during a city council study session. Those things can grow legs quickly.

We had an air conditioner land in our dumpster one day. No idea where it came from. Last fall somebody dumped bags of leaves there. What do you do? You pay to have it removed.

And you hope that someday the cops will notice somebody dumping downtown and write them a ticket. Or you hope that a deputy finds a clue in the garbage found in the ditch that will lead to the villain.

Mandatory feels like mandatory. People don’t like mandatory. That’s how Donald Trump got elected and how Mike Gronstal got beat. They’re regulating us to death, and they’re coming to get our guns. Live free or die. That was the theme of 2016.

Now comes the long arm of the law that sends you a monthly garbage bill whether you want it or not.

Other towns do it.

You can see the point: Scofflaws are born every minute. It is irritating to find an air conditioner in your dumpster. At least they didn’t put it in your lawn, but … We pay to have our garbage removed, why can’t you, you slob?

Then there are people like Norm Lund, a former county weed commissioner who loves order and cleanliness, whose wife was a church secretary and who worked with Boy Scouts. Nice guy. He likes sorting recyclables from garbage and taking them to the dump himself. It can be a satisfying feeling to drop off garbage that is perfectly sorted and bagged and then return to town for a good cup of coffee. Nothing wrong with that at all. It is Iowa pride.

Octogenarians like Lund often live on paltry Social Security payments alone. They generate nearly no garbage. That fee might take away one of their monthly indulgences like eating out at the restaurant.

Others just don’t like the government telling them how they will handle their garbage, so long as it is not strewn on someone else’s property.

Some people are still sore they can’t burn leaves in the fall, and that’s been more than a decade.

Those kinds of sentiments can take a council by surprise.

Andriette Wickstrom urged council members to educate first. This has not been an issue that has been explored much in Storm Lake. It really hasn’t been much of a problem. We were surprised to learn there are about 400 residences in town that do not have garbage service, about 10%. Get a tenth of them at a city council meeting and the place can get warm fast.

Take it slowly.

For a year, run ads in the newspapers and on the radio warning people it is a municipal infraction to litter. Send out warnings with the sewer bills. Warn them that we are garbage-vigilant and that eyes are fixed on YOU.

That’s how the police handled junk piles in back yards. They warned and warned for a year or so. Then they started hanging little orange tags on doors as greetings. Then, if things didn’t change you could get a fine.

Engage the public. Urge them to have some self-respect and haul their garbage to the dump. Warn them that your neighbor could stand his ground with a baseball bat if you dump leaves into his dumpster or, worse, he could call the cops. The garbage hauler could promote his business and why it’s a good idea to use it, and that it is not as expensive as you think. You might get what you want, and the steam will have blown out of the whistle.

Or, the council could well stare down a freight train. The memory of that should be fresh enough.