What to know as Seminole mulls bear-resistant trash cans for residents

  • October 11, 2015
  • /   Author Name
  • /   Media Coverage,Real Estate

By: Martin E. Comas

The Orlando Sentinel

When a bear sees a neighborhood garbage can, it thinks of one thing: easy dinner.

That's why Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine is proposing that the county distribute bear-resistant trash cans to the more than 23,000 homeowners who live west of Interstate 4, an area state wildlife officials call "the epicenter of human-bear conflict" and which has generated thousands of nuisance-bear calls.

On Tuesday, Seminole commissioners will hold a public meeting with officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to discuss bear-resistant garbage containers and whether the county should move forward with Constantine's proposal.

The meeting is scheduled to start shortly after 1:30 p.m. in the county services building, 1101 E. First St. in Sanford.

How do bear-resistant garbage containers work?

Bear-resistant trash cans basically come in two sizes — a 96-gallon or 64-gallon container — and look similar to regular trash containers with wheels. However, the tops are reinforced with metal and have a locking mechanism on the lid that makes it difficult for a bear to open it. To open the can, a person has to put his finger into a hole to trip the locking mechanism.

How effective are bear-resistant trash containers?

FWC Deputy Director Kipp Frolich said the lock-top trash bins have proved a very effective tool in reducing the number of bears wandering into neighborhoods over the long term.

"I think that they're the cornerstone or the foundation of any bear-management approach," Frolich said. "If you look at many communities across the country and in Canada that have these types of bear-resistant cans, they will confirm that they are very helpful, and it's very smart."

FWC recently conducted a study in a Volusia County neighborhood where residents used the special garbage cans for a 12-month period, and it resulted in a 95 percent reduction in bear encounters. But Frolich called it a "small-scale study" and said a more effective study would look at a community that has had bear-resistant cans for 10 or 20 years.

"We don't want to set false expectations," he said. "It's not that you put the cans out and people won't see any more bears. That's not realistic."

Bears at this time of year are trying to consume as many calories as possible.

"And you can get a lot of calories from a dumpster or a garbage can," Frolich said. "Just by eating berries or acorns, it will take a bear longer to consume the same amount of calories."

Do any Seminole neighborhoods already provide bear-resistant garbage cans?

In 2014, Wingfield North, a gated neighborhood along Markham Woods Road, west of Interstate 4, began requiring residents to use the lock-top "bear-resistant" trash cans.

The HOA purchased 115 of the special containers and distributed one to every home, just months after a woman was mauled by a female bear with cubs while walking her dogs in that neighborhood.

"We still get bears, but we're not getting that many," said resident and lawyer Gary Kaleita, a partner with Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed.

"But the ones that do come in, they look around and walk away. But FWC has reported to us that the communities next to us have reported an increase in bear sightings."

This month, the HOA for an adjacent neighborhood, Wingfield Reserve, also started requiring residents to use the special containers.

Kaleita said he favors the county providing bear-resistant garbage cans to all the residents west of I-4, otherwise bears will wander into neighborhoods that don't have the containers.

How much do bear-resistant containers cost?

Depending on the size, the containers cost $150 to $180 each. However, Constantine said each 64-gallon container would cost about $130 apiece if the county purchased them in bulk.

He estimated a county program of providing the bear-resistant trash cans to residents west of I-4 — including in neighborhoods such as Heathrow, Wekiva, Sweetwater, Sabal Point, Alaqua, The Springs and those off Markham Woods Road — would cost $3 million to $3.5 million.

How would the county pay for the program, and would there be any charge to residents?

That's one of the issues that will be discussed at the workshop: whether county staff should move forward to study the issue of providing bear-resistant cans to those residents and how to pay for it.

Constantine said the county has millions of dollars available in a solid-waste fund, more than enough to pay for the bear-resistant containers. And county records show that fund has a balance of about $7.8 million.

Another option, Constantine said, would be for the county to purchase the trash bins by borrowing money from the fund, and then charge $1 month to each waste-service bill west of I-4 to replenish the fund during 10 years.

Why the area west of I-4 and not the entire county?

According to FWC, the vast majority of bear-nuisance complaints come from the area west of I-4 and north of Maitland Boulevard in Seminole County.

Since January 2008, there have been nearly 6,600 bear-nuisance complaints in that area. And the main reasons, according to FWC officials, is that bears will wander from Seminole State Forest and other conservation areas into residential neighborhoods when food is easily accessible, typically from unsecured garbage cans and dumpsters. Also, I-4 acts as a barrier for bears.

In 2013 and 2014, there were four bear attacks in Florida that resulted in serious injuries to humans. Three of those occurred in western Seminole County, according to the FWC.

Can I use a bear-resistant trash container even if Seminole currently does not require residents to use them?

Yes. But you will have to purchase the 64-gallon cans for $180 plus tax and pay an annual service fee of $60 from either one of the county's two waste haulers: Advanced Disposal or Waste Pro.

The annual service fee is because it takes workers additional time to unlock and empty the special containers than it does for the regular 35-gallon cans, said Tim Dolan, regional vice president for Waste Pro.

However, residents also can rent the containers for $150 a year, which includes the service fee. But the companies will retain ownership of the cans.

As of September, 433 homeowners have purchased or are currently leasing the containers.

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