As director of the Blackfeet Solid Waste Program, Jay Dusty Bull says that waste disposal is one thing most people don’t want to think about. But for Dusty Bull, moving his program “into modern times” is something of particular interest.
When, in the early 2000s, the Blackfeet Tribe decided not to continue creating landfills and instead haul all local trash to a transfer station, it changed the entire system. Dusty Bull approves that decision, noting the importance of keeping the head-waters for a large portion of the country pristine. However, while the system changed, the rates Solid Waste has been charging were established in the 1970s.
“Solid Waste goes to Heart Butte, but we only get $3.30 per household per month,” he said. “Compared to Cut Bank, they pay around $70 per month for trash and around $100 per month for water.”
Additionally, he notes towns like East Glacier Park and Babb see an enormous increase in population during the summer months, vastly growing the amount of trash to be collected.
Currently, Solid Waste employs around 20 people with a fleet of three roll-offs, three side loaders and four end dumps, all of which are obsolete. The newest vehicle is 10 years old, and collectively the fleet represents millions of miles driven. Dusty Bull pointed out that the “tribal meltdown” of 2014 ruined his program’s ability to apply for grants, so instead Solid Waste is reaching out to two financial institutions for $2.5 million in loans to purchase five new trucks as well as a new office, scale and cans.
With an obvious need for additional funding in the context of working in a poverty stricken area, Dusty Bull asked what could be done. “We’re going to tap into tourism,” he said.
Residential customers can expect to see their bills increase by $5 to $10 per month, but the real revenue will come from businesses which he says will see larger increases. The rates, Dusty Bull notes, are not set by Solid Waste but by the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and an organization called “Rates of America,” who together assess water and trash to determine the rates charged.
Solid Waste also works with other programs, including Blackfeet Housing and Fish and Wildlife. “This year has been the worst for bears,” Dusty Bull said, “so we’re working with Fish and Wildlife to educate people about bears.”
While disposing of solid waste may not be something folks want to consider, it is fortunate to have people who do and who make it their business to find ways to do it better.