Trash collection: ‘We just can’t keep up’

Published 7:15 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2018

By Ken Stickney

The city of Port Arthur’s residential trash program, beset with problems even before Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey hit last August, is overwhelmed in implementing services and struggling to keep a regular schedule.

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“We just can’t keep up,” Public Works Director Armando Gutierrez Jr. told the City Council at its Tuesday meeting. “We’re doing the best we can.”

The department continues to receive new trucks and has received some interim help from city employees outside the program, such as garbage collection workers. But the volume of waste at the curb — much of it apparently generated by contractors repairing flood-damaged homes — is keeping the city from picking it all up and keeping to a routine schedule.

Gutierrez said solid waste trucks are getting to homes every three or four weeks, not the twice-monthly schedule the city hopes to provide.

He said while the department is trying to tend to single-family dwellings first, it also is trying to assure that condos and multifamily dwellings are paying for their own collection.

In addition, he said, the city is trying to make sure that commercial, industrial and institutional addresses are taking care of their own pick-up services and that the city is enforcing its codes in permitting what waste comes to the curb.

Councilman Thomas Kinlaw said, in general, it’s “a good thing” to see the contractor waste because it means that people’s homes are getting repaired.

Nonetheless, he said, the city “still has to find a way to pick up the trash.”

Councilman Harold Doucet said the city must be certain to not pick up contractor trash at city expense.

“We can’t afford to pick up for contractors,” he said. “Close that loop.”

Part of the discussion centered on the capacity of trucks that the department has ordered to replace trucks destroyed during Harvey. Gutierrez said the city has reverted to buying larger trucks to keep from making too many trips to the landfill, which is a time-consuming task.

An unreliable pick-up schedule might be addressed by using an interactive map on the city’s website, Mayor Derrick Freeman said. Then citizens might know better when the trucks are coming through their neighborhood.

“Let’s do something so citizens can know,” he said.

Of special concern to Gutierrez and the council members was fatigue within the department. Gutierrez said the department is working 12 hours a day, six days a week.

Also of concern, council members said, was Gutierrez’s admission that trucks are not always available for maintenance because they are in use.

Doucet said maintenance is of critical importance, and suggested that Gutierrez authorize overtime if necessary to make sure vehicles are maintained.