Jurors, waste contractor talk trash
It was fairly reminiscent of an old Steve McQueen movie Tuesday night when Police Jury President David Savoy told Waste Connections, Inc.’s, Dustin Fortenberry, “The biggest problem we have is a lack of communication.”
During a lengthy and sometimes heated discussion, the police jury’s Solid Waste Committee heard complaints — primarily from other jurors — of perceived “wrong-doings” by the parish solid waste contractor.
Fortenberry, district manager for the Waste Connections, did his best to explain why recent actions by the company should not be construed as “retaliation” for the police jury’s withholding of payments as fines for alleged contract violations.
Donna Bertrand, sitting in for Secretary-Treasurer A.J. “Fatty” Broussard during Tuesday night’s police jury committee meetings, explained that, from March, 2018, through August, 2019, the parish has withheld $148,950 in “fines” for contract violations.
Fortenberry, however, pointed out that a vast majority of that “came right out of the gate for delivery (of new carts) issues.”
When WCI was awarded a new contract in March, 2018, one of the stipulations was that new, micro-chipped carts would be substituted for the carts previously in service.
The new carts are blue in color; the older ones are green.
That substitution process led to customers being left without carts and / or ending up with additional carts. The process also took a lot longer to complete than the company thought it would, leading to fines being levied by the police jury.
WCI recently implemented a policy whereby drivers were instructed not to empty more than two carts per household since, by contract, that’s all each household is allowed.
But the contract also allows customers to purchase additional carts and pay a monthly fee (no covered by the sales tax for waste collection).
Also, in some cases, carts from multiple residences, some not clearly visible from the road, are placed in one area.
Many “third-and-more” carts were being left unattended at the ends of routes.
Bertrand also pointed out a “big issue this month” is that when she calls WCI recently to report that a cart had not been emptied, she has been told service was denied “because the lid wasn’t all the way down.”
Finally, Bertrand said that, during the month of September, the company repeatedly violated the contract’s time mandate that pick-up shall not begin in the rural areas of the parish before 4 a.m. and in the incorporated areas before 5 a.m.
“Just in September, using the jury’s GPS tracking, there have been 102 instances of early pick-ups — that’s $25,000,” she said.
Fortenberry asked for a copy of that report, jokingly adding, “I find that hard to believe. I have trouble getting most of these guys in for 4 or 5 a.m.”
“I think the biggest problem we have here is a lack of communication,” Savoy said. “You didn’t tell us about the two-can limit. You didn’t tell us about the open lids.”
Savoy harkened back to March and April of last year when jurors and WCI officials met and talked frequently.
“Then we started withholding the fines and now we can’t even get anyone on the phone,” he said.
Fortenberry stressed that one point had nothing to do with the other, either with the issue of communications or with the implementation of the “two carts per household” or the “open lids” policies — both of which are, he added, addressed in the contract.
He said the company became aware of the increased number of carts being used when trucks started taking longer and longer to complete their routes.
“We don’t have weight, all we have is time,” he said. “When the routes were all of a sudden taking longer and longer to finish, the drivers were telling us that there were more and more carts to empty.”
He added that he has a plan to “roll out” a sticker program for those residents who purchase a third cart and pay the monthly fee for collection.
He acknowledged that there are many “extra” carts out in the parish that shouldn’t be out there.
“That all goes back to the switch-out,” he said. “We delivered about 26,000 carts and only picked up 18,000. A huge percentage are still in the parish.”
He also said that the issue with the open lids “has been addressed and shouldn’t happen again.”
As for the missed pick-ups, Fortenberry told jurors, “I hate to say this, but there are going to be issues, carts are going to be missed. But the public only hears about the $25,000 fines, they don’t hear about the times when the fine was only $500 or $750, where we only missed two or three carts out of the 26,000 homes.”
Addressing the apparent animosity between the jury and the company, Fortenberry said, “It’s like we’ve gone from a ‘relationship’ (before the new contract) to vendor / customer. And the terms of the new contract, I think, have caused that.”
According to Fortenberry, the company has made a number of attempts to negotiate fines and issues but “every time we come to the table with something, it’s denied.
“I’m all for talking things through and making them right.”
In the end, the atmosphere went from hints of suing for breach of contract to exchanging phone numbers and promises to communicate more.
No recommendation was forwarded from the committee to the full jury.