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Arkansas Supreme Court dismisses Fort Smith recycling lawsuit

The city took recyclable materials to the landfill from October 2014 to June 2017, though residents were not notified that those recyclables were going to the dump.

FORT SMITH, Ark — The Arkansas Supreme Court has reversed and dismissed a circuit court's ruling that ordered the City of Fort Smith to pay residents for appearing to have a recycling program, but instead disposing of recyclables in a landfill.

From July 1, 2015, until May 1, 2017, court documents allege that Fort Smith residents would put their recycling outside, and the sanitation department would pick it up separately in what looked to be a recycling truck, but about 95% would end up in the landfill— an action the city didn't share with their residents.

According to the lawsuit filed against the city, the approximately $13 fee was charged monthly to residents, and included in that fee were costs for collecting and proper disposal of recyclables.

During that time period, the City’s contract with Green Source Recycling in Clarksville had expired, and offered a bid for renewal at $35 per ton of material. The City of Fort Smith Sanitation Department was looking for other options due to the rising cost of recyclable disposal and as a result, more recyclable materials ended up elsewhere.

Customers were not notified of this at the time, as the city chose to present a solution to the problem once it was found, and maintained the monthly fee was more than reasonably priced based on expert opinion.

The circuit court judge ruled in 2022 that the City owed $745,057 for not properly processing recyclable materials.

However, in a decision from the Arkansas Supreme Court on March 16, 2023, that ruling was reversed. "The circuit court’s findings that Fort Smith failed to notify the public, deceived citizens, and destroyed public trust are indisputable. But those facts do not make the sanitation fee’s relationship to the services less reasonable," the opinion states.

The Court also says that even though Fort Smith appeared to be running a recycling program, it still used that $13 fee to collect and dispose of sanitation.

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