Hilton Head must clean up its trash mess

info@islandpacket.comNovember 13, 2013 

It's time for the Town of Hilton Head Island to dump its lone garbage contractor, Republic Services.

No one is satisfied with the current arrangement: Owners of short-term rental properties continue to complain about trash piling up outside of their units, and Republic is complaining the town misled it, unfairly allowing other haulers to operate within the town limits and overestimating the number of residential pickups, leaving the company with fewer customers than expected. Meanwhile, the town is firing back that Republic's claims are not true and complaining that Republic should have had the expertise to do a better job of picking up trash.

Whew.

We believe there's enough blame to go around.

The town, too narrowly focused on setting up a recycling program in 2010, failed to take into account how garbage pickup would be affected. For example, the town chose to contract with a single garbage contractor, believing the change would make recycling more convenient, lower garbage pickup costs for residents and reduce the wear on roads because fewer garbage trucks would be used.

It accomplished these goals. It also forced residents to use a trash hauler that has not consistently picked up the trash.

During the past two summers, the island's busiest time of year, residents have complained about missed trash and recycling pickup. And today, condo owners and managers are complaining that trash piles up outside their units.

The town failed to draft a contract that guaranteed its residents consistency in this basic service.

Republic Services underestimated the amount of work required to fulfill its obligations. It should be no surprise to the company that it needs to beef up staffing and equipment during the busy summer months. It should be no surprise that most rental units have an 11 a.m. check-out time and a 4 p.m. check-in time. Thus, trash must be picked up after 11 a.m. but before 4 p.m. to avoid a smelly, unsanitary mess to greet visitors as they check in. Republic should have known and had a plan to deal with these idiosyncrasies of island life from the outset -- and it should have submitted a bid for the work that accurately reflected the cost of handling these issues.

Assigning blame isn't enough to fix this mess.

The town must now determine whether to return garbage pickup to a free-market model where residents can choose who picks up their trash or whether to, once again, attempt a townwide franchise with one hauler. The town could also do a hybrid of the two, Mayor Drew Laughlin said Tuesday.

While the town could consider creating its own department to oversee trash and recycling pickup, it's likely an expensive enterprise that runs counter to what most municipalities are doing. Most, such as Beaufort and Port Royal, are now contracting such work out to reduce costs and increase efficiency, town manager Steve Riley said Monday.

We don't know whether the town should return to a free market model or put the contract out to bid again. And neither does Town Council. They'll likely need a consultant -- one who specializes in trash, not just recycling -- to come up with a plan. Ideally, such a plan would maintain the successes, including recycling rates that have increased fivefold and lower pickup rates.

And it should offer solutions to the newly discovered problems. Take, for instance, the quagmire of Saturday pickups for rental properties.

The Hickory Hill landfill in Jasper County, where Republic, and any future hauler, would dump trash, closes at 2 p.m. on Saturdays -- just a few hours after the time renters check out of their rental units. Thus, cleaning crews must make a mad dash to clean the units and get the garbage outside and ready for pickup. And a hauler must quickly haul it to the dump in time. Otherwise, it is stuck with trucks full of trash until Monday morning.

Any new plan must address how to solve this problem -- and many others. Otherwise, the town's trash problems will keep piling up.

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