Hilton Head Island garbage collector fires back in letter to town

dburley@islandpacket.comSeptember 27, 2013 

As Hilton Head Island residents continue to complain about missed trash pickups, the town's lone garbage contractor fired back Thursday in a complaint saying the town has violated its exclusive-franchise agreement.

Republic Services Inc. said in a letter that the town has allowed other garbage companies to haul trash on the island in violation of the agreement. It says the town overestimated the number of residential pickups, leaving Republic with fewer customers than expected, and the town was unclear in defining which island rental properties the company would service.

In the letter, the company says it wants a meeting with Mayor Drew Laughlin and a Town Council member on Oct. 4.

The company said if the dispute is not resolved:

  • It will change rates and stop Saturday trash pickups at rental properties.
  • It will limit the amount of waste it collects to three, 30- to 32-gallon trash bins or a single 96-gallon cart for all residential customers. Each bin must be from Republic and not another hauler, the letter said. Any trash over that amount would require a $35 pickup fee, and the pickup must be scheduled ahead of time.
The five-year franchise agreement, signed Nov. 18, 2010, allowed residents to keep their previous haulers for 18 months before switching to Republic. Republic says the town has not enforced that rule, and other haulers are still collecting.

"By virtue of us sending this notice, we are acknowledging that there are a number of issues we seek clarity on with the town," said Russ Knocke, a company spokesman. "After a good-faith effort over a period of many months, this is the culmination of a number of disputes we've attempted to communicate."

Town manager Steve Riley said many of the claims were untrue.

Riley said the town has allowed other haulers to pickup on Saturday afternoons, but only after Republic made rounds.

"We've offered to enforce that, and they've declined. If they want us to enforce it, we will," he said.

Riley also said the agreement never guaranteed a certain number of customers. It also specified Republic is responsible for any property that uses cart-based pickup -- renter or owner-occupied.

"I'd be happy to meet with them," Riley said. "We've had conversations, but we really haven't made much progress. The conversations were at the lawyer-to-lawyer level. I'm hoping to back up and have more meetings at staff levels."

Attempts Friday to reach town attorney Greg Alford and Mayor Laughlin were unsuccessful.

The town and Republic have had an uneasy relationship in recent years.

Riley warned the company last year it had breached its franchise agreement after town officials said they received nearly 130 complaints in July 2012 and more than 90 in August 2012 for missed collections.

In response, the company said it had met its obligations, and the town had no grounds to terminate the contract.

Complaints dipped during the tourism offseason, but jumped to 505 from May to August 2013. In July, the town said it received more than 200 complaints.

Last week, some condominium managers told The Island Packet they wanted the town to end its residential waste and recycling contract with Republic.

"In some cases, I have not had recycling in a month," said Phyllis Merchen, who manages condos in Hilton Head Plantation, Sea Pines and the mid-island area.

Knocke said Republic is not trying to absolve itself of blame. Instead, it wants to clear up contract expectations and move forward.

"We're not attempting to minimize residential complaints that have existed," Knocke said Friday. "I think everyone can acknowledge that there were complaints."

Town officials have said they can't terminate the contract without strong grounds, and the number of complaints has not warranted ending the agreement. Town officials have said that overall, the number of complaints is small compared to the number of customers.

For example, in July, of the 161,699 collections scheduled, 712 -- or less than 1 percent -- were missed, according to town figures.

"We still continue to deal in isolated fashion with repeated misses," said town public projects director Scott Liggett. "But for the most part, folks that are paying for the service are getting the service."

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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