Recycling bins draw concern, but city says quick fix not possible

McHugh Lane recycling station
Posted at 5:36 PM, Dec 20, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-20 19:36:22-05

HELENA — Residents of a subdivision off of McHugh Lane in Helena are having trouble with recycling bins behind their homes, but the solution is not as easy as just moving the bins.

The bins in question are city-county recycling bins placed on private property across from a subdivision.

“There was no communication these were going to show up, they just kind of showed up,” subdivision resident Kelly VanDyke said.

Since the bins’ arrival, VanDyke said she and her neighbors have dealt with numerous issues including noise from trucks emptying the bins, the headlights of late-night recyclers shining into their windows, and cardboard blown out of the bins.

“With the wind coming from the west it goes directly into our neighborhood,” VanDyke said. “We’ve had cardboard stuck against our fences, in our backyards, even in my kids’ sandbox there’s been cardboard.”

VanDyke said she and her neighbors have brought their concerns to the city. She said they’ve attended council meetings, emailed, made calls and met with the mayor but have seen no changes.

At the moment, city officials say the situation is more complicated than just moving the bins.

Recycling is a partnership between the City of Helena and Lewis and Clark County. Recycling locations are in part determined by ease of access for both city and county residents. While the McHugh Lane subdivision is within city limits, the bins are on property in the county.

“It is being used well, it’s mostly by county residents,” City of Helena public works director Ryan Leland said.

Another determining factor in where bins are placed—landowner permission. Leland said the city and county rely on private landowners to allow them to place bins on their property, and at the moment, there are not many willing to do that.

“We’ve approached many different property owners and we do not have any other options at this point,” Leland said.

Leland said both the county and city commission have evaluated the situation and feel comfortable leaving the bins in their current location on McHugh Lane, but he said they are taking steps to address some of the issues the subdivision residents raised.

“We are evaluating that site to look at it and make sure it’s clean, we’ve changed when cardboard is picked up because there were noise complaints,” Leland said. “We’re making sure that we are shifting it as much as we can so we do it during business hours, and then monitor it to make sure we don’t have trash that is out there and that we have a clean site.”

VanDyke said she hopes to see more changes in the future—including more opportunities for community input in determining recycling sites.

“This is a major decision that impacts a lot of people, I think community input would be huge,” she said. “I also think they need to do a little more research and put it away from neighborhoods.”

For now, the bins will remain in their current location on McHugh Lane, but if property owners are willing to offer up alternative sites, Leland said city officials will evaluate new locations.

Property owners interested in housing recycling bins can reach out to the city’s public works or solid waste departments.