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Politics

Hillsborough garbage system debut hailed despite hiccups

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Published:   |   Updated: October 2, 2013 at 05:43 AM

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TAMPA — It was billed as the biggest one-day roll-out of an automated garbage service the nation has ever seen.

And like any other first-time endeavor, Hillsborough County’s massive switch Monday from manually to machine-loaded garbage collection didn’t come off without some hiccups.

Many homes in the unincorporated county didn’t get their garbage collected until after 8 p.m. because of fueling and mechanical problems and other first-day glitches. And more than 1,000 homes in the Brandon area were skipped altogether.

Still, the three private haulers hired by the county managed to make 177,600 collections for garbage, yard waste and recycling.

“Lots of things went right and a few things went wrong,” said Kim Byer, the county’s manager of automated collection. “The majority of residents put out the carts correctly. Overall, we thought it went very well for first day.

Some of the things that went wrong:

* Waste Management Inc. never got to 1,000 homes on a Brandon route Monday because a safety meeting went longer than expected, causing the drivers to get a late start. The company picked up the missed homes Tuesday morning.

* Republic Services had five new trucks go down due to a malfunction that smashed their mechanized hoppers, which collect the garbage from household bins and dump it in the back of the trucks. The company had to use back-up trucks.

* The third hauler, Progressive Waste, had problems fueling its new compressed natural gas-powered trucks. The company doesn’t have its own fueling station, Byer said, and had to deal with three different vendors.

Byer attributed some of the missteps to drivers learning new routes and getting used to new trucks. Also, the drivers often had to reposition the garbage and recycling bins because residents didn’t leave enough space for the mechanical arms to grab them. The bins need 3 feet of clearance on all sides.

More than 1,500 callers nearly crashed the county’s garbage help line, with some customers reporting waits of 20 minutes or more before they could get through.

One of the callers was Chris Ciavarella of Palm River, whose garbage wasn’t picked up Monday.

“It took me six or seven times to get through and then when I did get through, I was on hold 25 minutes,” Ciavarella said. “So evidently this is a huge problem.”

In response to the high call volume, the county will staff the help line until 6:30 p.m., 90 minutes later than normal. Byer said the later operation time will continue until the number of calls drops off.

Customers should roll their bins to the curb by 6 a.m. to make sure their garbage is collected.

“They can expect some delays for the next few weeks,” Byer said. “That means garbage may be collected after 6 p.m.”

Residents whose garbage isn’t picked up can call the help line at (813) 272-5680.

Don Ross, a consultant who helped the county transition to automated collection, said the first day’s operation was a success despite some missteps. He noted that the 1,500 calls were less than 1 percent of the total collections on Monday.

“It was a huge undertaking,” Ross said. “Can we do better? Yes. And these guys are going to continue improving.”

msalinero@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-8303

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