State objects to tour featuring bears at Dillingham dump

Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Letting a local guide charge people $20 to view bears at the Dillingham dump is a bad idea that ''sets a bad example for other Alaska communities,'' state officials said Tuesday.

Heather Stockard, the Department of Environmental Conservation's solid waste program manager, said she learned Friday that the Dillingham City Council had granted a permit allowing the dump-site bear viewing.

She quickly sent a letter notifying Dillingham officials that state law requires landfills to be managed so ''wildlife and domestic animals do not endanger public health, safety or welfare.''

''Bears are a problem at landfills throughout the state and we're working with communities to minimize their bear problems,'' Stockard said. ''This is a bad idea that certainly seems to be in conflict with the city's responsibility to appropriately manage the landfill.''

Allowing tourists to enter the gated landfill and sit in a van while they watch up to 70 brown bears eat trash would create a significant public safety problem, Stockard said.

It's not clear yet whether the DEC letter will sway council members to reconsider the permit, which passed May 5 by a 4-1 vote.

City manager Chris Hladick, who opposed the plan, said he will give council members the DEC's letter and will also suggest they view a video about the problem of bears at landfills during Thursday's meeting.

Hladick said he hopes the council will reconsider because he thinks the tours will be unsafe. ''I just don't think it's a good idea to let people get that close to them.''

Hladick also is working with state officials to close the problem landfill and open up a new one this fall with an electric fence to keep out the bears.

Local tour operator Karen Roberts, who was awarded the permit, said she thinks the state is late stepping in.

''Bears have been a problem at the landfill for a long time,'' Roberts said. ''People were illegally getting into the dump and now that a safe proposition has come across the desk, the city manager is trying to stop it.''

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