Despite an intense, months-long search, Powell Valley Recycling leaders have yet to find affordable insurance coverage for the recycling center. And that means the facility remained closed on Monday, …
Despite an intense, months-long search, Powell Valley Recycling leaders have yet to find affordable insurance coverage for the recycling center. And that means the facility remained closed on Monday, as it has since mid August.
“We are extremely frustrated,” said Marynell Oeschner, president of the Powell Valley Recycling Board.
Oeschner said she and other recycling leaders have been trying to find a new insurance carrier since June, when Nationwide provided notice that it would no longer cover the private, nonprofit organization. There has been some recent progress: Last week, Powell Valley Recycling secured liability insurance, but it still needs coverage for the property.
Oeschner said Thursday that, so far, the board has only received one offer, and it came with a $50,000 annual premium. That’s roughly 14 times the $3,500 what the nonprofit paid Nationwide for both property and liability coverage last year, she said.
“It’s nuts,” Oeschner said. “It’s absolutely nuts … We could be driven out of business.”
Particularly galling is that the turn of events appears to have nothing to do with the Powell center — which never submitted a claim in its 22 years with Nationwide — but broader insurance trends. Industry publications say recyclers across the country are finding insurance more expensive and harder to find; Oeschner believes part of the concern is that a center will wind up accepting combustible lithium batteries, but staff at the Powell center screen all materials.
The board is continuing to search for insurers, she said, but has been warned the premium might still land around $20,000. That would also represent a substantial chunk of change for an operation that works to break even each year.
“It should be so simple,” said Myron Heny, a fellow member of the center’s board.
No service, no fee?
Meanwhile, with the Powell Valley Recycling Center having been closed for more than a month, the Powell City Council is considering whether the residents who help fund the center should get some kind of a break.
At last week’s council meeting, Councilman Zane Logan said the center has “received a lot of inquiries and angry people about being closed, as you can imagine.”
Mayor John Wetzel said the city has similarly fielded “a lot of questions,” given that it helps fund the operation.
The city assesses a $2 per month recycling charge on residential customers’ utility bills and then passes that money along to Powell Valley Recycling.
At the Sept. 18 meeting, Wetzel said it might make sense to suspend the city’s $2 fee for a month, to roughly match how long the center has been shuttered. However, he said the city ordinance that lays out the fee doesn’t offer that flexibility, meaning the city would first have to amend its code. That process takes public notices and approvals at three separate meetings, but Wetzel suggested it was worth making a change.
“I would hope this doesn’t happen again, but it does seem like maybe we should fix the ordinance to have the ability to make the constituents whole, and have the ability to suspend the collection while we’re not providing the service,” he said. “Granted, over the course of a year, they [Powell Valley Recycling] probably still could use that money, but the true fact of the matter is the recycling center is closed.”
Councilman Steve Lensegrav agreed, saying if the center is closed, “why are we charging?”
Logan said it makes sense to change the ordinance and give the city some leeway with its fees in case something happens in the future. He said the council “may want to have that flexibility to look at that without going through an ordinance change for a month-and-a-half.”
City Attorney Sandee Kitchen said she would draft an ordinance for the council’s next meeting.
Logan noted the $2 recycling fees passed on to Powell Valley Recycling are something of an anomaly, as the rest of residents’ utility bills go to services controlled and provided by the city.
For example, the city handles cardboard recycling for commercial businesses, charging and collecting between $5 and $12 a month for the service. Households and businesses that don’t pay the city for cardboard recycling are instead assessed the $2 a month fee that’s forwarded to Powell Valley Recycling.
With the fee assessed on roughly 2,800 accounts, it amounts to about $5,600 worth of revenue for the private organization each month. Heny said the fees cover the modest wages earned by the center’s workers.
“If it wasn’t for the city’s support,” he said, “there wouldn’t be any recycling.”
At last week’s meeting, Logan vouched for Powell Valley Recycling’s efforts, reporting that, “the board really has tried hard to get insurance coverage.”
Oeschner said Thursday that they’re continuing to look for coverage. She added that reopening without insurance is not an option under the terms of their mortgage with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That a “little podunk recycling center in Wyoming” can’t get coverage, Oeschner said, is “incredible.”