Cordova’s unique and remote location can lead to challenges when it comes to waste disposal and recycling. For more than 30 years, the community had a solution to automotive lead-acid battery recycling in Anchor Auto/Marine. However, those limits were pushed this year.
In a letter to the Cordova City Council dated Nov. 1 and included as part of the body’s agenda at last week’s meeting, Jim Kacsh with Anchor Auto/Marine (the NAPA store) expressed his frustrations with the city when it came to routing community members to his business to dump their batteries. He said he had no luck trying to change things with city authorities so he took it to the council.
NAPA had been recycling these batters at no cost, allocating money within operating costs to make this a possibility. This summer NAPA sent 25 tons of batteries to the lower 48 to be recycled, and recycled over 300 tons of batteries over the past decade.
However, now pallets and pallets of telecom batteries, alkaline batteries, lithium-ion batteries, non-automotive batteries, non-complete batteries, small appliance batteries, and damaged batteries have accumulated on his property — none of which he can recycle. The recycling facility Kacsh uses has strict guidelines about what they can or cannot take.
“Each battery is hand stacked, sorted, and counted by our employees,” read Kacsh’s letter to the council. “… Because of the abuse from the city, I must stop taking all batteries that don’t originate from our sales for now.”
NAPA can only recycle automotive and commercial lead-acid batteries, and has no way to recycle anything else.
Kacsh’s standpoint is that it is the city’s responsibility to take care of the town’s hazmat.
“It’s everyone’s problem,” he told The Cordova Times in an interview.
Because of Cordova’s location, everything has to be shipped out. NAPA ships in tons of batteries, and in turn they ship out twice as many as they bring in. Kacsh looks at it as a form of community service, and that as a battery seller it comes with the territory.
Technology has greatly advanced over the past ten years, and made battery disposal more challenging.
During the COVID pandemic, manpower shortages meant that it was difficult to ship batteries out, so they piled up. Kacsh said he then partnered with the city to be able to delay the collection and shipment. However, NAPA has now received a mountain of batteries they can neither recycle nor dispose of.
“I’ve had a good working relationship with the system since ever, I have no beef with anyone in the city,” Kacsh said.
But according to Kacsh, the city has been telling the community to dump their batteries on the NAPA property. He says there needs to be a top-down policy decision to address this issue. When he’s reached out to the city about his struggle the response, he said, has been “quiet at best.”
“It’s not malicious. It’s just the way it was for decades and decades and decades, it was fine,” Kacsh said. “But now that there is more than one type of battery, it’s a problem. But it’s not my problem even though they made it my problem.”
“The city is going to have to take on the responsibility and do the homework … to figure it out,” he added. “It shouldn’t be an individual business, or an individual citizen or community member, to deal with those types of problems on a city level. This is a citywide problem.”
Kacsh said he had someone come in with a bank of batteries they needed to dispose of and after he said NAPA couldn’t take them, he later saw those same batteries dumped in a city ditch.
“If we don’t give people a way to dispose of their hazmat, it’s going to go in the ditch, it’s going to go in a landfill, it’s going to go in the harbor, it’s going to go anywhere but where it’s supposed to be,” he said.
In another instance this summer, Kacsh said somebody dumped an entire trailer load of strange, heavy batteries he couldn’t deal with. He ended up having to go to the police and make a police report about it.
He said it shouldn’t have come to this, and that miscommunication from the city is in part to blame.
Perceptions had clashed between Kacsh’s experiences with batteries being dumped on his property and the city’s public policies on battery disposal in the city.
Samantha Greenwood, acting city manager, said she spoke with Kacsh last Friday on what they need to do to move forward together.
Greenwood explained that the city does not recycle batteries, but ships them out. Household batteries that are lithium-ion are collected and shipped out with the hazmat shipment. Issues arise when there are large quantities of batteries, like from businesses voiding batteries, she said. When large quantities are shipped out the owner or business is charged a fee by the city.
Greenwood said the city has directed people to NAPA if they come with lead acid batteries.
In his letter, Kacsh wrote: “This past summer when the city was excavating the landfill for steel, you dumped pallets of broken and dangerous batteries on my property.”
Greenwood denied this happened.
Mayor David Allison and city Refuse Superintendent Aaron Muma did not respond to repeated emailed requests for comment by the time of publication.
Kacsh said he will still take any and all batteries he can — a good rule of thumb is if NAPA sells it, they can probably recycle it. Additionally, the Native Village of Eyak collects normal, small, household batteries (like AAA or D cell batteries) in the container next to the front door of their building.
In his letter to the council, Kacsh said he was willing to work with and train the Refuse Department on how to determine what kinds of batteries NAPA can take and what kinds the city would be responsible for.
Greenwood said the city will work with NAPA to improve their working relationship, and in the meantime it’s helpful if community members stick to dropping off batteries at NAPA during normal business hours.
She said that she wanted to emphasize that whatever happened in the past is in the past, and they want to work with Kacsh going forward and not point fingers.
Kacsh likewise is eager to move forward. He said he has a good working relationship with the council and mayor, and sometimes the people in charge just don’t know there is a problem until it gets out of hand.
“I have faith in the city, they’ll work with me and they’ll figure it out,” he said.
This story originally ran in the Nov. 24, 2023 issue of The Cordova Times.