Editorial: If yellow bags go, what’s next?

The Great Southold Garbage War isn’t over, but both sides have agreed to a cease-fire.

What a wild couple of weeks it’s been in the ongoing dispute between the town and Go-Green Sanitation, a several-years-old battle over the trash hauler’s refusal to comply with the town law requiring that all trash left out for collection be placed in the town’s yellow bags. First, a state Supreme Court justice granted the town’s request for a temporary restraining order against Go-Green, effectively stopping the company from doing business in Southold. A second state judge refused to lift the order and then, on Tuesday, the Town Board agreed to lift the stay for 120 days as the two sides attempt to work out their differences.

Not a bad move, considering that Go-Green’s customers were left to fend for themselves with their trash piling up under the hot summer sun.

While Go-Green is claiming a victory, recent events prove that the company’s long-claimed contention that its customers need not purchase the yellow bags just isn’t true. The company moved from ignoring the law to urging its customers to lobby hard for changing the law.

Go-Green paints itself as the victim of an oppressive government, but that simply isn’t true. It followed a simple business model of undercutting the competition by charging less, which it could do only by ignoring the rules other carters follow. The town can change its waste disposal law and regulations and scrap the yellow bags, but what’s the alternative? Somebody has to pay the debt service on the $4 million transfer station, constructed during a previous administration, and the cost of keeping it running. If that’s not through user fees, which is what the yellow bags are, will it be added to property taxes? Saying anyone whose trash is taken out of town shouldn’t have to pay is akin to the parents of private school students arguing that they should be exempt from local school taxes. There’s a certain logic to it, but it’s not going to happen.

Go-Green couldn’t compete with other carters if it followed the law so it simply ignored it. That was its decision; it wasn’t forced upon it by the town.

If the yellow bag law has to go, so be it. But remember that any change must be approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which isn’t known for its relaxed, forgiving nature. The town faces two basic tasks; meeting its financial obligations and providing a level playing field for all, residents and carters alike.

It could very well turn out that, in the future, people may look back upon the time of the yellow bag program as “the good old days.”