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Whitefish works to address downtown trash problem

by HEIDI DESCH
Daily Inter Lake | August 13, 2021 12:00 AM

Overflowing garbage cans have been an unwanted but common sight in downtown Whitefish this summer.

As tourists have flocked to Whitefish and large community events have returned, garbage containers have been filling up quickly, with trash piling up on the sidewalk around them. A problem that primarily used to occur on weekend mornings is now an everyday concern.

The city of Whitefish is attempting to address the issue, while also working with business owners on an option that may lead to ongoing cleaning of downtown sidewalks.

City Manager Dana Smith said the city recently added new garbage cans downtown and began emptying them on weekends, instead of only Monday through Friday. Additional trash pickups are added to the schedule during large gatherings.

"We are obviously going through some growth challenges with the number of visitors in town with garbage and sidewalk maintenance," Smith said. "We want to keep the downtown clean, and it's important that the city take the initiative on that. We are continuing to look at innovative ways to improve the garbage collection downtown to meet the increasing demand from our residents and visitors."

THE CITY is asking businesses that provide takeout options to encourage patrons to properly dispose of their food containers, including breaking down the containers as much as possible before discarding them.

"We're also asking patrons to take the extra step of looking down the block or across the street for an empty garbage container to properly dispose of trash," Smith said.

Smith said the city has received complaints about the cleanliness of sidewalks downtown and is working to address the problem with assistance from the Heart of Whitefish downtown organization. City code says property owners are responsible for the cleanliness of sidewalks abutting their property.

"We'd like to encourage a partnership between the city and businesses, and that's really better than the city just trying to enforce the rules," Smith said.

The Heart of Whitefish and downtown businesses committed funding about two years ago to a seasonal city employee position to wash sidewalks. But the job has remained vacant, and given the workforce shortage facing businesses, the city said it likely won't be able to fill the position this year.

STAFFING LIMITATIONS make it even more difficulty for businesses to maintain sidewalks along their storefronts, Smith added. Through the Heart of Whitefish, the city is contacting businesses that may want to participate in a new program that would have the city contract with a private company to wash sidewalks for the businesses that participate.

"The intent is that the city holds the contract, which decreases the cost by bringing a number of businesses together but it's also a way the city can support the businesses," Smith said.

Chris Schustrom, with the Heart of Whitefish, said downtown businesses want clean sidewalks.

"It's put exceptional pressure on the city by having so many people visit," Schustrom said. "We wanted to renew our partnership with the city, and we've had good response from the businesses that are interested in doing that."

Schustrom said about 40 businesses signed on to the plan a few years ago, and about 15 already have shown interest again.

"Everybody needs to work together on this," he said. "Businesses are understaffed, and I do think they appreciate the city being proactive in trying to respond to this."

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