Time was, says a voice as smooth as cornsilk, when Oneonta, N.Y., had a recycling center where folks brought their bottles and cans and kept the town clean. But then the state passed a bottle deposit law, "and the recycling center shut down." Now, the voice continues, "the town's a little on the messy side again."
That's the message of one of several radio advertisements that have been airing in the Washington area on behalf of a beverage industry coalition trying to defeat a D.C. ballot measure that would require deposits on bottles and cans sold in the District.
Yesterday in Oneonta -- the 14,000-population upstate New York town featured in the antideposit commercial -- town officials had this response: Wrong.
"From what I've heard, it doesn't sound accurate at all," said City Clerk Elizabeth Goodman.
Said Mayor David Brenner: "They ought to check around before they say things like that."
Officials in Oneonta said passage of a deposit law in the state in 1982 -- legislation similar to the measure that will appear on D.C. ballots Tuesday as Initiative 28 -- had no effect on recycling there.
They said recycling has continued to run strong in Oneonta -- and perhaps more so -- since deposits were required.
"What you've got is a lot of people collecting bottles for extra money, like old folks and Boy Scouts," Goodman said. "It really works the other way."
So what did happen in Oneonta?
According to the industry advertisement, sponsored by the industry-funded Clean Capital City Committee, "Once folks were forced to take their bottles and cans back to the grocery, our recycling center went out of business."
Bruno Bruni, assistant city engineer in Oneonta, said there never was a recycling center, exactly, in Oneonta. Rather, about a year before the state deposit bill was passed, the city and surrounding township started a recycling program, contracting for help from a local center for the mentally handicapped to collect and process glass bottles. Bruni said the city built eight sheds around town where residents could drop off all kinds of glass bottles and jars.
The city also constructed a building on a local railway siding where the glass was stored until it could be crushed each month and loaded onto freight cars for shipment to a glass manufacturer in Elmira, N.Y.
"There was an overall community concern about recycling as many products as we could, rather than putting them in a landfill," said Bruni, adding that the city has been forced under a consent decree with the state to close its public landfill by next June because it is full.
About two years into the program, though -- or a year after the state deposit bill passed -- the city employe responsible for coordinating with the handicapped group left his job and was not replaced, Bruni said. The city's contract with the center for the handicapped lapsed and was not renewed when problems arose over whether the center was paying its workers minimum wage.
However, Oneonta residents have continued to leave glass not covered by the deposit law in the town receptacles, and the city still collects it. City workers process the glass -- though less frequently -- and lately the glass has been piling up at the processing building because the crusher broke down. Mayor Brenner said the city plans to get it fixed soon.
"We take issue with that kind of message because the citizenry has been very good about sending the products down," Brenner said. "It's not left in the streets, nor is it making the community any dirtier."
Ed Arnold, spokesman for Clean Capital City, said yesterday that he would respond to questions about the commercial after he obtained a transcript of it. He later was unavailable for comment.
Oneonta Clerk Goodman was not pleased. "We would like to be a model community and not be featured in somebody's disaster ad," she said. "I wish they'd be good enough to send us a copy of the ad."