Monday, April 14, 2014

Stupidity writ LARGE: Newport City Council Waste Management Decision

The City Council voted last week to approve a new waste disposal contract with Waste Management (apparently the only company to have submitted a bid) whereby brand new 64 gallon trash/recycling containers will be provided and required for residents throughout the city (a limit of 100 smaller containers will be provided for elderly residents or individuals with disabilities that cannot easily handle the new larger containers).  Based upon my conversation with Kate Leonard (the only Council Member to vote against the proposed contract…Councilor Farley recused himself), each residence (i.e., home, apartment unit, condo unit, etc.) will be provided with two of the 64 gallon containers, one for garbage and one for recycling, at a cost of nearly $1,000,000 to the taxpayers.  Additionally, residents will now have to pay extra for disposal of "bulk" items that do not fit into the new containers.  Waste Management hopes to start phasing-in collection trucks that are equipped with mechanical arms that are able to lift the new containers off of the sidewalk and dump them into the trucks (thereby saving on labor costs by cutting down on crew sizes).  A few questions and concerns:
1.  Costs:  Why was there only one bid received for this contract and how much negotiating was done with Waste Management before it was approved by the Council?  Moreover, why does this new deal require that the taxpayers cover the $1,000,000 costs of the new containers?  In speaking with Councilor Leonard, it appears that in most cases it is the waste disposal company (not the taxpayers) that pays for any new containers that are required for its disposal programs.  Why, then, are we accepting the one and only bid that does just the opposite by requiring taxpayers to pay nearly $1,000,000 for new containers that many of us do not want or need (while also charging extra for "bulk" items that were previously picked up at no additional cost)?  Moreover, Councilor Leonard confirmed that many similar programs implemented by other municipalities give residents the option to choose from a range of various container sizes…rather than mandating that the largest and most expensive containers be purchased and used city-wide.  Why is Newport opting for this very expensive "one size fits all" approach?  
2.  Feasibility:  In speaking with various neighbors and residents throughout town, there are many significant and reasonable questions and concerns (in addition to the cost-related questions set forth above) that should be addressed and answered before a new contract is signed.  (I found out over the weekend that there was an online survey that solicited feedback on various options for the new collection program.  Neither I nor the neighbors that I spoke to were aware of any such survey).  In no particular order, here are the top questions/concerns so far:
(i) Typically, these large garbage containers need to be placed directly at curbside (on the right-hand side of the street in the case of a one-way street) due to the positioning of the automated lift-arm on the right-hand side of the collection trucks.  On collection days, the containers cannot be left at the side of a house or set back in a side yard or driveway, etc.  Rather, the containers must be left ON THE SIDEWALK very close to the street.  Will this be true for Newport and, if so, how can this possibly work in areas such as Historic Hill, the Yachting Village, portions of the Point, etc., that have narrow one-way streets where the houses are built right up to the street/sidewalk (many without driveways) and where parked cars will block easy-access to the new 64 gallon containers?  Are the narrow sidewalks in these areas going to be clogged each week with hundreds of these large garbage bins? [Remember, there are 2 bins required per residence so even a modest 4 unit building will now have up to 8 of these large bins out on the sidewalk on collection day.]  
(ii) In areas where the automated lift arms are not practicable, won't there be a need for standard work crews?  Are the costs of those crews covered by this new contract or will that be an "extra" cost to be paid by Newport once WM figures out that the automated "lift arm" trucks won't work in many areas of town?
(iii) Are the elderly or disabled residents (most of whom produce nowhere near 64 gallons of garbage and another 64 gallons of recyclables each week) who are not lucky enough to get one of the 100 smaller containers going to be forced to use these larger containers?  
(iv) Can residents choose a smaller sized container?
(v) Are the residents who are living on the right hand side of a one-way street going to be forced to live with their cross-street neighbors' garbage bins being lined-up in front of their homes each week so that a truck's mechanical arm can reach the bins?  
(vi)  On many narrow streets in the downtown area, larger vehicles have to drive up onto the sidewalk on a daily basis in order to make it through.  How will they do this on days when the sidewalk is blocked with the new larger collection bins that must be left on the curb for pick-up? 
(vii) What happens on collection days when snow/ice is piled high on the curbs and sidewalks?  
(viii) Where are residents to store the larger containers if they don't have room for them?  [With respect to this question, my relatively new heavy-duty 30 gallon garbage cans (that barely fit in the enclosed space that I created under our front steps) are doing a fine job of holding our garbage.  What am I to do with those containers now (will the City or WM buy them from me???) and where am I to store the 2 new much larger containers that will not fit beneath our front stairs?   We live on Historic Hill and the 64 gallon containers are simply too large and cumbersome to fit through the narrow gate and walkway that leads to our postage-stamp backyard (we have no driveway or side yards) so it appears that the new containers will have to be permanently parked next to our front steps.  Many residents in town will have the same problem.  How nice that will look (and smell)…]
(ix) Are flower boxes and flagpoles going to have to be removed on narrow streets so as to give the trucks room to lift, dump and replace the new large garbage bins?  
(x) Are WM workers going to be responsible, under the terms of the contract, for making sure that these heavy containers are left upright and in an orderly fashion rather than simply strewn on sidewalks, side yards, flower beds, against fences, houses, cars, etc. (an ongoing problem throughout town that has often resulted in property damage)?  
(xi) Can residents opt-out of this program and continue to use their current garbage and recycling bins?
(xii) How much extra will it cost for "bulk" items to be picked up (i.e., items that don't fit into the 64 gallon bin)?
If anyone has answers to these questions or information regarding plans to alleviate these concerns, please post it here (unfortunately, I have been told that the 64 gallon container plan will be implemented on a uniform basis throughout Newport…no exceptions or exemptions have been considered other than the 100 smaller containers described above).  More importantly, please contact any City Councilors who voted in favor of this new program and ask them to reconsider this matter at the next Council meeting and suspend the execution of any new contract until such time as other bids have been received and considered and until public concerns have been heard and addressed.  
R. Buzard
Newport, RI

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