Bill Jabjiniak

Bill Jabjiniak, leader of Mesa’s award-winning Economic Development department, declined to answer Tribune questions about weighing climate factors and large-scale projects.

 

Prince Charles last week urged world leaders at a UN climate change summit to take “a warlike footing.”

But while Mesa leaders are sounding battle cries with their Climate Action Plan, their footing seems tentative, if not slipping, as the city's carbon footprint may be expanding.

Residents who “try to be green” and separate recycling material from garbage are dumbfounded –  expressing disbelief on social media – to see both bins being dumped in the same city trucks.

According to city data, Mesa is recycling only 2.3 percent of what it picks up from residents, far below the current goal of 21 percent – and far lower than the city’s long-term goal of diverting 90 percent of its garbage.

Meanwhile, Mesa City Council has approved one massive, carbon-producing industrial project after another. 

After lining up the likes of Facebook and RagingWire/NTT data centers and sprawling industrial parks that are flipping Mesa’s desert landscape, the Mesa Economic Development team scored several national awards, including a silver award at the national Economic Development Council conference and two Golden Prospector awards from the Arizona Association for Economic Development. 

The Tribune asked Jabjiniak if Economic Development factors in energy and water usage, traffic and other environmental factors when negotiating with large employers and developers. He did not respond.

The Tribune also asked several City Council members how they respond to criticism that they favor large-scale development over the climate and quality-of-life concerns of residents.

“The quality of life of our residents is a priority, and I always carefully monitor the processes and consider all different aspects of developments and public input before casting my vote,” Councilman Mark Freeman responded. “I encourage all residents to contact my office should they have questions, comments or concerns about any project.”

Vice Mayor Jenn Duff, who voted against the Facebook data center, responded, “The quality of life of our residents is a priority, and I haven’t shied away from voicing my opinions and concerns on issues that potentially threaten our natural resources.”

Councilman Kevin Thompson, who represents the booming District 6 that has become “Data Center Alley,” declined to answer.

Atop an extraordinary pace of large-scale development, the city continues to pile recyclable material onto garbage dumps.

More than two years after a fire at a contractor’s plant, Mesa apparently has no agreement in place to stop dumping paper, cardboard boxes, plastic, bottles and other materials that could be recycled.

At the Sept. 24 study session, according to the meeting minutes, Scott Bouchie, director of the city Environmental Management and Sustainability Department,  told City Council “recycling remains a challenge.”

He said a study is being done on “how a transfer station and recycling facility can help the utility financially and environmentally while mitigating risk”

“We’re dependent on the private sector to take things we collect,” he said Oct. 14.

And there is still no solution on the horizon.

“We’ll be back in the first quarter of next year with an update,” he said, adding he hopes the city can eventually “control our own destiny on the recycling side.”

Councilwoman Julie Spilsbury asked Bouchie to explain the program.

“I’ve been noticing on social media people are really confused about recycling. And I realized I don’t know what we’re doing,” she said with a chuckle.

“I sense people’s frustration: They’re seeing all the barrels being dumped in the same place,” she added.

Bouchie said the city is continuing to buy recycling bins for residents as replacements.

“We are still recycling,” he said. “We do have a contract with one local contractor. Unfortunately, they don’t have capacity....There isn’t the capacity in the East Valley to handle everyone’s (recyclable) material.”

But, he added, “I’ve had multiple meetings this week looking at short- and long-term” recycling options.

Bouchie declined the Tribune’s request to provide details on his meetings.

When asked if she was satisfied with Bouchie’s answers, Spilsbury said, “I understand how it can be upsetting to learn about changes to the trash and recycling collection. The city has been transparent about the staffing issue and its impact on Mesa’s recycling program. 

“We appreciate the patience of our residents as we navigate through this challenge.”

Mesa’s recycling is also still reeling from a fire that burned down a Republic Services recycling facility in 2019. Prior to the fire, the city was diverting a fifth of its refuse collection to recycling plants.

A contract with United Fibers remains in effect, but the contractor will only accept up to six tons of materials. Mesa generates more than 30 tons, leaving a massive shortfall.

Though the sub-3 percent “blue barrel” recycling rate (cardboard, paper and paperboard, packaging, glass and plastic) for October was nearly eight times lower than the city’s current goals, at least it was higher than most of 2020, when the city stopped its recycling program.

When the program resumed early this year, the city’s recycling rate climbed to nearly 5 percent in March before falling in recent months.

At the mid-October study session, Bouchie also blamed “staffing problems” for recycling and garbage being combined.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a 10 percent increase in what we’re picking up,” he noted. 

Four months ago, Mesa City Council unanimously passed a Climate Action Plan, with  “aspirational goals” of getting rid of 90 percent of garbage, cutting the city’s carbon footprint in half by 2030 and using exclusively renewable energy by 2050.

The plans were hashed out over several meetings.

“I don’t know how attainable those goals are. I hope they are,” Mayor John Giles commented during one study session.

In an interview with the Tribune, Giles stressed, “The big part of the plan is community engagement.”

That has been happening over the last two months of meetings, first at neighborhoods around the city, more recently during online meetings.

The six-week program started Oct. 13, with energy, followed by heat mitigation Oct. 20, air quality Oct. 27 and water stewardship Nov. 3.

 

For more information, visit mesaaz.gov/climateaction. 

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