Some homes still without garbage containers Friday

An unnamed Alabama subcontractor is being blamed for Augusta’s latest garbage collection gaffe, which left thousands of homeowners in the National Hills and Summerville neighborhoods with no garbage cans for days.

Many National Hills homeowners were instructed to place bagged or otherwise contained trash at the curb Friday, in lieu of the cans they’d yet to be delivered to replace the ones removed a week earlier.

Mid-afternoon Friday, a garbage truck, an Otto Environmental Systems van and a city truck pulling a trailer of new cans continued to crawl the streets behind National Hills shopping center. Most garbage appeared collected, regardless of container, and new gray “Augusta 311” wheeled garbage cans lined the curbs.

Commissioner Donnie Smith, whose district includes National Hills, was upset Thursday about the missing cans, but took a moment Friday morning to meet with an Aumond Road resident who hadn’t had garbage pickup in six weeks.

“We’ve just not done a good job with this,” Smith said of the city’s transition June 3 to new once-weekly garbage, yard waste, bulk waste and recycling collection. The process, which caused most households to gain a new hauler and new collection day, has resulted in thousands of missed pickups, numerous forgotten assisted collection accounts and other incidents that keep callers on hold with Augusta 311.

Call volume is down at 311– the city’s customer service hotline that was revamped to handle an expected onslaught of calls about the trash transition– from the thousands of calls that came in during the solid waste program’s first few days.

Augusta 311 Director Kelli Walker said the office, including three temporary staffers hired to assist, is currently averaging about 560 garbage-related calls a day. The calls include new requests for service and questions, as well as reports of missed collections or missing containers, Walker said.

On Monday, Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson promised the thousands of missing garbage cans would be replaced by Wednesday, but by Friday – collection day in National Hills – they had not been.

Otto Environmental Systems, a cart manufacturer based in Charlotte, was awarded a $174,800 city contract for “asset management” during 2013, but outsourced removal of the old carts to another company, Johnson said.

“Otto got a little overzealous,” and someone instructed the cart removal crew that it was acceptable to blaze ahead of the garbage trucks and trucks carrying replacement carts, removing thousands of cans around Summerville and National Hills days ahead of the area’s collection days.

“We wanted them to work day-of-service,” Johnson said.

The city dispatched additional Environmental Services crews during the week to deliver the replacement cans, with a focus on households with none, he said.

But the city has no remedy against the cart removal firm, which is paid based on carts collected, besides Johnson’s instructions to Otto that the firm’s services are no longer desired in Augusta, he said.

Despite the issues, Johnson said the service is improving. “It gets dramatically better each and every week,” he said, “dramatically better, each and every week.”

Last week, for instance, only 216 work orders for missed pickups were filed, he said.

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