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Trash plan opponents announce plan to sue St. Paul

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St. Paul trash and recycling carts.
St. Paul launched its new garbage collection system in October, despite protests from residents who say the mandatory service is unnecessary and expensive.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Opponents of a new organized trash collection system in St. Paul say they will sue the city after council members rejected a referendum effort earlier this month.

"The issue's pretty black and white and we're being unfairly denied a basic right to referendum," said attorney Patricia Hartmann, one of the organizers of the referendum issue. "We hopped through all the hoops ... and we have a right to put the vote out there and let the people decide the trash plan's fate."

St. Paul launched its new garbage collection system in October, despite protests from residents who say the mandatory service is unnecessary and expensive. The city distributed new wheeled trash carts to nearly 80,000 homes, replacing a market-based system where individual homeowners made their own arrangements with private trash haulers to provide carts and garbage services.

The new system divides St. Paul into service territories and into weekly pickup schedules. The city said the system will reduce illegal dumping and curb the number of garbage trucks going through St. Paul alleys. It follows a citywide recycling initiative put in place in January 2017.

Opponents say the new collection system prevents neighbors from sharing their trash service, or realizing cost savings from reducing waste to an absolute minimum. 

In late October, they submitted a petition to repeal the enabling city ordinances, and had enough signatures to qualify for a referendum. But City Council members voted 6-1 against it, saying state law gives them, not voters, the final say in solid waste matters. Council members did say they were open to discussion about potential changes to the system, but that a contract the city signed with trash haulers earlier this year would remain in force.

The group has not filed its lawsuit yet, but Hartmann expects that will happen soon. She said legal questions need to be resolved quickly, so residents have the opportunity to vote on the referendum in next year's general election. Opponents say they will seek online donations to help cover their legal fees in coming days.

"I can't tell you how many people have asked us, since this whole issue has come to a head, 'Gee, can I send some money? Where can I send the money to help pay for the litigation?' " Hartmann said.