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Thursday, July 5, 2012 06:24 am

Garbage in, garbage out, garbage everywhere

City vows fix to perennial waste issues

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This time, things are different, says Springfield public works director Mark Mahoney.

It doesn’t take many brain cells to figure out that the city’s method for collecting trash is, politely put, silly. No fewer than four garbage haulers drive pavement-chewing trucks up and down pothole-pocked streets collecting recyclables and throwaways each week. That’s as many as eight truck trips a week down the same street. To. Pick. Up. Trash.

Even with all those trucks, the garbage isn’t getting picked up. The city requires that every household have garbage collection, but that’s in the theoretical world of thou-shalt’s. In the real world, there is no surefire way to enforce the requirement, and Mahoney estimates that as many as 3,000 households in the city have no garbage-collection service while fly dumping is handled catch-as-catch-can, with crews paid with tax dollars picking up trash and the city citing scofflaws with no garbage service as complaints from neighbors flag the guilty.

There is, of course, an easy way to solve the issue: Put citywide garbage-collection services up for bid and give the contract to the lowest bidder, who would then pick up trash and recyclables from all containers left curbside. That’s the way Peoria does it, with the monthly tab amounting to $13 per house, which covers weekly trash pickup, monthly curbside recycling and free weekly disposal of grass clippings, yard waste and limbs between May and November. Monthly charges are included on water bills.

Springfield, where common sense is all-too-often in short supply, does things differently, with what-about-this and what-about-that blather standing in the way of solutions. But not for long, if Mahoney’s hopes and dreams come true.

If anyone has street cred when it comes to Springfield’s disgraceful history of garbage disposal, it is Mahoney. As an alderman, Mahoney from the beginning campaigned for sensible garbage pickup. You can look it up.

“Our system is so antiquated,” Mahoney said. “We’ve been in office three years. Every discussion I’ve had with neighborhood groups, the garbage issue is at the top of the list, and nothing’s been done.”

Mahoney uttered those words in 2006, when he was an alderman who served as chairman of a city council subcommittee on waste disposal that, presumably, was created to solve a problem that’s still here a half-dozen years later. Newspaper clippings from the time show a penchant for words like “grappling” and “wrangling” but, as Mahoney said all those years ago, nothing’s been done, even though the city as long ago as 1996 sought advice from communities such as East St. Louis – East St. Louis – for tried-and-true methods to keep garbage off the streets.

Now, the city has hired a consultant, who is being paid $6,000 to develop a solution that is nothing new. It boils down to putting bills for garbage collection on City Water, Light and Power bills to ensure that every house or apartment with someone living in it has garbage service. CWLP billing isn’t the ultimate solution, Mahoney acknowledges. With four haulers, there would still be lots more trucks than necessary tearing up city streets absent apportioning areas of the city for each hauler. Mahoney also points out that fly dumping would likely still be an issue unless residents of unincorporated areas abutting the city are required to have garbage service.

But, for now, the city is, at least, nibbling toward a solution. The city’s four garbage haulers would get paid from the city by submitting some sort of voucher documenting that they’ve performed the service. It is, essentially, the same proposal that was debated during the 2003 mayoral campaign, when Mayor Mike Houston’s predecessor Tim Davlin decreed that such a system would “cause chaos.”

Why should anyone be holding their breath now?

“The dynamic has changed,” Mahoney says. “I think the difference is you have an administration that is open to moving in this direction. You have a council that is interested.”

When will we see a proposal in writing, ready for city council action?

“It can be as early as the next few weeks,” Mahoney answers. “It’s just a matter of getting everything together and pulling the trigger. The goal is to make Springfield greener and cleaner and move us in the right direction. It’s not necessarily about what’s best for the haulers.”

Stay tuned.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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