Fort Smith official admits recycling issue began in June, questions arise about funding support for program

by Aric Mitchell ( 1,548 views 

Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman admitted in an email sent out  Thursday evening (May 4) that the city’s disposal of recyclables at Fort Smith Landfill goes back further than the initial November 2016 starting date reported in a city statement of May 1. The admission confirms a May 3 Talk Business & Politics story reporting a 10-month lapse in the recycling program as opposed to five.

Additional research conducted by Talk Business & Politics raises the possibility that the city of Fort Smith received some state funding to support a recycling program. It remains unclear the status of such funding now that the city has admitted to a 10-month redirection of recyclables to the landfill.

At Tuesday’s (May 2) regular Board of Directors meeting, the city reported 1,478 tons were taken to the landfill since November. The new timeline will change that number, but Dingman did not address by how much in Thursday’s email, and inquiries from Talk Business & Politics sent after Dingman’s email was sent were not immediately returned.

“The information provided to me by the Sanitation director for writing the press release earlier this week regarding the recycling program was incorrect,” Dingman wrote. “The press release stated that Fort Smith hasn’t taken household recyclable material to Green Source since November, 2016. Upon receiving further information, it is now clear that Green Source has not been able to take our recyclables since June of 2016.  All residential recyclable material collected since July has been put in the landfill. What was originally thought to be a temporary situation in July became permanent in October. If any further information is learned, it will be forwarded.”

Dingman’s statement also appears to correct a late Wednesday Facebook response from “City of Fort Smith, Arkansas – City Hall.” The response, posted on the Talk Business & Politics Facebook page, continued to place the root of the confusion with Green Source.

Green Source Director Justin Sparrow told Talk Business & Politics earlier Thursday the final recycling load received from Fort Smith was on June 27, 2016.

As previously noted by city administration in the Tuesday meeting, the Fort Smith Sanitation Department continued to run recycling routes during the affected time period despite knowing the materials would not be recycled. Talk Business & Politics has repeatedly asked since May 2 for the cost of running those routes but has not received a response.

Also on Thursday, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) acknowledged it provides state-based funding to the Sebastian County Regional Solid Waste Management District (SCRSWMD) for the purpose of assisting public programs with recycling.

“Funds were distributed to all eighteen Regional Solid Waste Management Districts to be used in the development and implementation of recycling programs,” ADEQ Public Information Officer Kelly Robinson said, adding the SCRSWMD “received a total of $319,821 to be distributed or granted to public programs in the cities and county.”

Fort Smith accounts for just over 68% of the county’s population, but determinations on how funds are disbursed and used are ultimately made by the SCRSWMD Board of Directors and the county judge, Robinson noted.

“The  SCRSWMD is not required to disclose any information on applications or federal funds they have received (to ADEQ),” she noted.

Talk Business & Politics has asked Fort Smith Finance Director Jennifer Walker for the amount received from SCRSWMD as it specifically relates to the recycling program for 2015, 2016, and 2017 year-to-date. TB&P has also reached out to SCRSWMD Director Randy Hall regarding terms and conditions a recycling program must meet for remaining eligible for funding and if the disposal of recyclables will affect the city’s status.