Trash pick-up complaints again piling up for town's hauler

bheffernan@islandpacket.comJuly 30, 2013 

Reports of missed trash collection are piling up again on Hilton Head Island, and Republic Services has made no substantial improvements as a result of a similar rash of complaints last summer, according to a town official.

The town has received more than 200 complaints since mid-June, according to town public projects director Scott Liggett. He said the waste hauler began falling behind on collections in June despite meeting with town staff last winter to prepare for rising demand during tourist season.

Last year, town officials said they received nearly 130 complaints about Republic in July and more than 90 in August, and the company was warned that it had breached its franchise agreement. The number of complaints subsided in the fall, and town officials said then that the company was meeting expectations.

The town has not issued similar warnings this summer, but Republic's contract is "something I'm sure we'll be talking about at the next meeting" on Aug. 6, town manager Steve Riley said.

Russ Knocke, a Republic spokesman, wrote in an email late Tuesday that the company is "working closely with town officials on cyclical issues associated with the height of rental season."

Town Council granted a five-year contract to Republic for residential waste and recycling collection beginning in April 2011.

Mayor Drew Laughlin said the situation continues to frustrate the town.

"There has been discussion amongst council about what our options are," Laughlin said. "The preferred option is that they perform at a satisfactory level." But if the company doesn't, dropping the contract is "a possibility," he said.

Any hopes of heading into the summer with confidence or preparedness were dashed in June by a Republic staffing shortage, according to Liggett. Eight drivers were out, either on sick leave or worker's compensation, he said.

"It's hard for me to explain to anybody why we should go into the summer season without some cushion or buffer in staffing," Liggett said. "We can look at our calendar and know that June is going to come after May, as it always does."

The staffing shortage caused trash collection to fall behind, Liggett said. Monday's trash wasn't picked up until Tuesday. Tuesday's trash sat until Wednesday, and so on. The problem persisted until the beginning of July, he said.

Liggett said many of the complaints come from rental properties on Saturdays, when vacationers check in and out. Cleaning crews often don't finish cleaning the properties until after the trash trucks have come and gone, Liggett said.

"We get calls that say, 'You missed me,' even though we may not have," he said.

Arranging for later collection is difficult because the Hickory Hill landfill in Jasper County, where Republic dumps its trash, closes at 2 p.m., Liggett said.

He said that situation is somewhat "beyond our control."

However, improvements could be made to reduce complaints, Liggett said. Republic could develop a system to identify when missed collections occur, rather than relying on residents to call and complain, he said.

Councilwoman Kim Likins said she also has heard from some of her mid-island constituents about getting only once-a-week pickup, despite residents paying for two collections a week.

However, she said the complaints have "slowed down" over the last few weeks.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.

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