County loses its 'king and queen of recycling' after wedding

Thursday, October 5, 2006

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Debbie Blanchard and Roger Miner have united in marriage and stepped aside from their duties with the Carroll County Solid Waste Authority.

Instead, they'll be owners and innkeepers of "one of the most beautiful old-fashioned motor courts" in Eureka Springs, they say, and sailors aboard their sailboat "Red Hand," docked at Galveston Bay.

Debbie and Roger, known by some as the "king and queen of recycling," say their departure from the Authority is bittersweet, although Roger will stay on as director, but in a limited capacity.

"One day a week, hopefully, "and as needed," he explained.

Debbie is totally stepping down, not an easy decision for a gal who was recycling in the schools long before the Authority came into play.

"We birthed this incredible operation," she said of the Authority. "It's been our baby."

What started as a concept has grown into a public entity that employs 27 people, runs 18 trucks, and has revenues nearing $3 million.

"We're like an ambulance district," explained Roger. "We're a not-for-profit public enterprise. Every month we sweat bullets making payroll."

Although money might be tight, both Roger and Debbie are proud of what the Authority is -- and what it has accomplished.

"We feel real proud," said Debbie. "Carroll County is a model for the rest of the state. We're ahead of the curve."

"Carroll County was the first in the state to have mandatory pay-as-you-throw," added Roger. "It's an incredible thing to happen in the Midwest."

He said their decision to step aside was the result of a comment made by Ed Robertson, chairman of the Carroll County Solid Waste Authority.

"About a year ago, Ed looked at me and said, what happens if a trash truck runs over you," Roger recalled. "Ed insisted on thinking organizational so all critical information didn't just reside in me and Debbie. He was right.

"That got us to clean-up and define operations, organize files, write rules, and document what it takes to run this place.

"Over a period of a year, we've been steadily disseminating our duties out, spreading the load.

"The board approved a new organization structure," he continued, "and, in the process, it got us to thinking about what we were going to do.

"We love sailing. It's our big passion and we dreamed and schemed about it, but we couldn't find much time. We wondered -- what can we do that would be a good future with time off, and an income, and have a helpful role with Solid Waste.

"We recommended to the board a management team."

Roger said the management team, now in place and cross-trained, consists of Operations Manager Rod Vise and Facility Manager Gary Gray.

"I stayed on as director to do financials and attend board meetings, but the day-to-day operations are handled by the management team," he explained.

Both Roger and Debbie easily talked about their roles with the Authority, remembering the incredible energy that swept across the county to make the Authority what it is today.

"How fun it was then," remembered Roger. "There was this energy, camaraderie, people crossing the river, the lovely cultural stew from Green Forest to Eureka Springs. It was so fun. Everyone wanted on the band wagon and that energy remains today."

Debbie said she was involved in recycling long before the Authority was formed, as a volunteer with the PTA at Berryville Schools.

"It feels like it's been a lifetime," she said thinking back. "I was employed by the Authority in Nov. 1997, but before that, I started as a volunteer in the school system in the late 1980s, teaching recycling.

"Through the PTA, we formed an environmental committee at Berryville schools where my kids went. At that time, only the City of Eureka Springs had a recycling program, with a trailer at Public Works.

"I stopped by there one day to see if we could bring the school's recycled paper to them. Between parents, teachers and the students, we made weekly paper deliveries. That was the first step.

"Mayor Tim McKinney has always been there," she continued. "When we started recycling at the schools, he asked why not extend it to the community.

"As a result, 'Recycling Saturday' was born from that suggestion.

"Through the PTA, we had a recycling group that brought pickup trucks, with barrels in back, to Wal-Mart once a month," she remembered. "Within two months, we made it twice a month.

"Tim continued his support and got grant money to build a recycling center behind city hall. On June 1, 1991, the City of Berryville had a grand opening at the center.

"I'm proud to say that the PTA was instrumental in starting a program that grew and the city embraced."

Debbie said she was employed by the Authority as environmental educator in 1997 and later became an administrative assistant in 2002. "We had just grown by leaps and bounds," she explained, "and I had more and more administrative duties."

Roger came on board in 1999, but had been associated with the Authority and its many programs long before that, as a marketing manager for the BFI trash hauling outfit, working with city and county leaders and with Bryan Ukena, the first director of the Solid Waste Authority.

Looking back, he said the Authority's first job was taking over operations at the county-owned transfer station.

He also remembered when the Authority began hauling trash for Eureka Springs, basically on a whim and a prayer.

"When the Eureka contract with Freeman Waste was about up, they hired BFI to do a study," said Roger. "I came in as the BFI representative, did a detailed business plan and wrote specifications."

He said the council asked the Authority to haul its trash, which was a shock to those at the Authority, which only had Bryan as director and one employee at the transfer station.

"I said to Bryan, 'buy a truck and hire a guy," Roger recalled laughing. Bryan did, and the Authority's waste hauling was well on its way.

Roger said the Authority was also responsible for bringing recycling and waste hauling services together countywide.

He remembered the early days when Eureka Springs built its recycling center with grant funds.

"But Eureka didn't have enough volume to make it a valid enterprise," he said, "so the first item of business was to establish drop off centers in each of the county's three towns."

Also, he noted, other towns were looking at Eureka's mandatory pay-as-you-throw system.

"Tim McKinney was a visionary," Roger said. "He knew disposal would go through the roof. He noticed the savings and rate stability." As such, Berryville followed suit and enacted its own mandatory pay-as-you-throw system, and Green Forest later followed.

All along, Roger said, there was the Authority, creating community interest in recycling, the county, with its transfer station, and Eureka Springs, with its recycling center.

"As a committee we got together and created the Carroll County Solid Waste Advisory Board that was multi-jurisdictional to bring it all together," Roger said, "and not duplicate efforts."

Along the way, Roger and Debbie became "rich with romance."

They say their relationship was "businesslike" until a sweatshirt incident occurred.

Roger remembered the weather was cool that day, they were scheduled to travel together, and Debbie was cold because she hadn't worn a jacket.

Roger had a sweatshirt in his office, but wondered if the act of offering it to her would be too intimate. He did, saw her "snuggle into it, and they've been lovebirds ever since.

"It was just like we were in junior high," Roger recalled smiling. "We were both idiots."

They were married at their favorite "old-fashioned motor court" Sept. 30 with their grown children in attendance for the private ceremony.

In looking back over the years and the Authority's amazing success, Roger said simply, "It ain't Mayberry anymore."

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