Trash collection fixes take focus today in Port Arthur, city leaders promise

Published 12:02 am Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A drive down many roads in the city will provide a view of overflowing garbage cans — a problem that’s led to the city receiving phone calls, letters, emails and even text messages from upset residents.

The Port Arthur City Council is set to discuss garbage pickup during the 9:30 a.m. meeting today (Jan. 11) at city hall, 444 Fourth St. on the fifth floor, followed by a news conference at 2 p.m. by the mayor at the same location.

READ MORE: Mayor: “Come to Jesus” meeting coming if trash pickup isn’t resolved soon.

District 1 Councilwoman Ingrid Holmes and District 2 Councilman Cal Jones placed the issue on the agenda in response to the delays.

Jones said he is upset at the issue and feels a bit like a hypocrite for voting in favor of a rate hike for the service last year.

“I feel guilty by me voting for a raise on garbage rates and we can’t even deliver proper service,” Jones said.

He believes the residents deserve the service they pay for and that the council, as a whole, should step up.

Jones said he’s heard in the past of trucks breaking down and people getting sick, which he understands. He also feels something should have been done prior to these issues arising instead of beating a dead horse and getting the same story.

“We need to get to the bottom of why,” he said. “The buck stops with council. We need to figure it out.”

Garbage truck problems are not new to the city.

Last February, council approved an interlocal agreement with the city of Groves to assist in collection.

The city’s fleet of garbage trucks has been breaking down and it takes time to repair them, Alberto Elefano, former public works director, said in a memo to council last year.

The memo noted the city was already experiencing delays in collection and reached out to the neighboring city for help. The agreement was per availability with assistance offered on specific days for specific routes.

But the solution didn’t last.

Port Arthur City Manager Ron Burton said Groves was worried about the wear and tear on vehicles and getting in the same situation as Port Arthur so it was not in their best interest to assist.

Port Arthur resident Lucille Armintor sent letters to the mayor, council members, city manager and director of solid waste with her concerns, she said. She sent a copy to Port Arthur Newsmedia for publication saying the residents are tired of excuses and want action.

Armintor called it a health hazard and asked the city to not try to put a Band-Aid on the problem and put out large trash receptacles around town as the mayor suggested in an interview with another media source.

Overflowing garbage cans in the 3900 block of 29th Street. (Mary Meaux/The News)

The problem

Port Arthur has 12 residential garbage trucks and out of those there are five in working order. Two of the 12 are projected to be in service by Monday afternoon, Burton said.

Normally the city runs eight trucks on Monday, which is the busiest day, and seven trucks Tuesday through Friday.

In a draft of a presentation to be made on Tuesday, Burton said the city’s seven new trucks bought in 2018 after Harvey will be paid off by 2023. The remaining balance on the trucks is approximately $2.6 million. The other five trucks are older ones.

The problem is the chain of supply for the needed parts.

Burton said he spoke with officials with the city of Beaumont asking for assistance but they too have trucks getting close to needing repairs.

Port Arthur, he said, is not alone in the issue.

“If you Google it, Nashville, Huntsville, Jacksonville, Florida. All over the U.S. are having problems right now,” he said. “Why? You see the reason is spare parts. You cannot find them.”

Some of the parts come from China and with the supply chain disrupted that means a rippling effect.

The city has 16 residential garbage truck drivers and two are out with COVID.

Possible solution

Burton said the city now has a contract with Republic Services for two more trucks to be brought in on Tuesday.

And they’re awaiting a rental truck from Ohio to be delivered.

“By Friday we should be pretty much close to normal schedule,” he said. “In order to catch up we’re leaving the landfill open seven days a week. Whatever we don’t catch on Friday we’re doing on Saturday or Sunday in order to catch up.”

There is an alternate plan if needed. That would be placing dumpsters for residents to bring their garbage. But Burton believes the plan at hand will work.

Plus the city is still searching for the needed parts. A search in neighboring cities isn’t working so the next is casting further to Houston or further out, Burton said.