Augusta’s first few days under a new solid-waste collection contract haven’t been easy. The transition to once-a-week garbage, recycling and yard waste collection has seen more than a few missteps.
McDowell Street resident Anthony Cashin had his bins and yard waste at the curb Wednesday, his new service day. The trash still hadn’t been picked up Thursday afternoon.
“There’s yard waste all up and down the street,” he said. “It looks like all they got is the recycling.”
Around the corner on Monte Sano Avenue, garbage was collected, while recycling was left behind.
The city’s 311 service line, expanded to include former solid-waste customer service workers, has been so swamped with calls that it’s hiring three temporary workers to assist, Manager Kellie Walker said.
She said staffers are able to answer only about half of the nearly 1,200 calls coming in daily since Monday. Call volume in last week has almost tripled, she said.
Walker estimated that 80 percent of the calls since Monday involved the collection changes.
“We’ve gotten calls from entire streets,” she said.
Staffers at 311 want to give customers a place to provide feedback; they just don’t have time to talk to all callers.
“Everyone is so upset, at least we could answer the phone,” Walker said. “Your heart goes out to them; you just want them to get it right.”
Solid Waste Director Mark Johnson reported the city’s GPS system placed a truck within 20 yards of Cashin’s block, then acknowledged that the tracking system needs some work.
Every customer formerly served by Augusta Disposal has a different hauling company that will need to learn the nuances of each household, Johnson said. Advanced Disposal and Inland Services are the primary haulers.
“You couple that with brand-new trucks, new drivers, a new system and customers that are learning their new day of the week, this is a monumental undertaking, and in the grand scheme of things it’s working out pretty good for the number of things that changed on a single day,” Johnson said.
Other changes include the trucks’ robotic arms that raise and empty all garbage containers. Previously, some of the haulers did it by hand, Johnson said.
The city continues to fine-tune a system of tracking recycling containers that records each time a customer’s container is emptied. Each instance earns the customer points to be used in a new program called Recycling Perks. The perks include discounts at locally owned businesses.
The Augusta Commission has other ideas.
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle had several changes made that help rural residents with homes far off the road.
Commissioner Marion Williams wants the entire contract scrapped, in part because it dropped several small haulers that had cleaned the city since consolidation.
Williams’ idea is scheduled for discussion during a closed-door meeting with attorneys Monday.
He said Coleman Sanitation, one of the small haulers dropped from the program, was included in one of the primary haulers’ bids, then was left out of the final negotiated contract.
“If we don’t do this right, we’re going to get sued,” Williams said.
Commissioner Bill Lockett scoffed at the idea of redoing the contract now, although he voted against it last year. He said that with such a large transition, glitches should be expected.
“When you’re doing something new, there’s always going to be some obstacles,” he said.