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Council member upset about recycling snags

September 18, 2013

PAWTUCKET—A 20-ton recycling truck driving the wrong way down a one-way street is a liability waiting to happen, says City Councilor Terry Mercer. As such, he and others on the City Council want to see changes made by the city's trash disposal vendor so this action does keep recurring.

At last week's City Council meeting, Mercer brought up the wrong-way driving along with some other issues that he said have been brought up by his District 3 constituents. While a couple of the matters are annoyances, Mercer said the wrong-way driving could be a potential disaster both a safety and liability standpoint.

Upon hearing Mercer, District 4 Councilor John Barry said he now understood what one of his constituents had been trying to tell him about a similar situation he had faced while making a turn onto Prospect Street recently.

Councilor Thomas Hodge echoed these concerns and suggested that perhaps a few of the recycling trucks, which pick up the recycling carts with an automated arm that extends out from one side, could be retrofitted with an arm on the opposite side to accommodate the one-way streets.

Mercer told the Times that he hadn't witnessed the wrong-way driving himself but had been told of it from another city resident who had been waiting at a stop sign to turn onto the one-way Prospect Street from a side street. That person told Mercer he had looked for traffic coming in the expected direction and had gone to turn out when he saw a recycling truck coming at him from the opposite way.

“That's a wide street, but what if they are doing that on narrower one-way streets like Spring, Lyon, some sections of Armistice Boulevard or streets where there is parking along one side? I don't know how that's going to work for motorists,” said Mercer.

Mercer also questioned how the police are supposed to handle this obvious violation. “Are they supposed to look the other way?” he asked. “If nothing is done, this appears to be tacit approval by the city, and I think this opens us up to liability issues.”

Mercer added that other complaints he has heard involved residents receiving orange violation stickers saying that the recycling truck wouldn't pick up their bin because it was in the wrong location. One sticker reportedly suggested that the resident place the bin in a location across the street that was easier for the recycling truck to get to. “Residents shouldn't have to trundle their bins across the street 20 times a year,” said Mercer.

Another complaint came from a woman who Mercer said was “an avid recycler” and who needed a second recycling bin to accommodate her family's needs. He said he understood there was a cost for a second bin of $45 to $60, which seemed to run contrary to encouraging increased recycling by residents.

“I just don't know that a whole lot of thought was given to the automation process. I don't think it was well thought out, especially in a city like Pawtucket with so many one-way streets,” said Mercer. He added that the vendor, MTG, “bid on the contract as it was proposed. There were no caveats.”

Director of Administration Tony Pires, who is also the city's public safety director, said the wrong way driving is a “legitimate issue” that has been a topic of discussion between Public Works Director Lance Hill and MTG officials. He noted that the automated recycling program is new, both for the vendor and the city, and said it's “one of those glitches that occur” in any change of procedures. “That has been brought up and I know they have talked about a number of different solutions,” said Pires. “I believe there will be a solution fairly quickly.”

Matt Miga, general manager of the Seekonk, Mass.-based MTG Disposal, Inc. did not return several phone calls asking for comment. The private vendor began collecting the city's trash on a weekly basis in the spring and started an every-other-week automated recycling program last month.

Hill told The Times that he has been in continuous talks with MTG about the various issues that have come up, including the one-way streets.

“Many of our one-way streets have proved challenging for the trash and recycling collection,” said Hill. “It was a challenge that was anticipated by us and our vendors. But it is still a new process and it is evolving,” he said. He added that when it comes to both trash and recycling pick-up, “some streets are worse than others and we're working at finding solutions that are safe, reliable, and effective.”

Hill noted that there had only been three rounds of recycling collections so far since the automated program started, so that is not a wide sample to work from. He added that he had received no calls about the wrong-way driving and only was made aware of it when the City Council sent him a letter asking that various issues be addressed following last Wednesday's council meeting.

Hill said that the city's recycling rate “is really going up” since the larger bins went into effect. He also said the number of calls to DPW about problems with trash or recycling has dropped dramatically, only averaging about four per day. Given the number of households involved “I think that's pretty good,” he said.

Hill said the cost for a second recycling cart is $30, which reflects the city's willingness to split the cost of the $60 cart with the resident. Additional carts can be obtained by calling DPW. “We certainly want to encourage recycling. But there are also expenses involved that we have to monitor as well,” he said.

Hill added that one of the biggest problems being encountered by the recycling vendor is that of the carts being placed in the wrong direction by residents. The wheels should be away from the curb, he said. He added that the lid on the cart is inscribed with arrows showing the proper direction.

Follow Donna Kenny Kirwan on Twitter@KirwanDonna


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