LAWRENCEVILLE - You can throw the county's new trash plan in the garbage.
That was the message delivered Thursday by Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Michael Clark in granting a temporary preliminary injunction to local garbage haulers Southern Sanitation and Sanitation Solutions. What the injunction now means is that come Jan. 1, the county's garbage service for unincorporated residents will remain as it is currently.
"It's an answered prayer," said Southern Sanitation's owner Buddy Johnson. "The employees and my family are excited. We had total confidence in Gov. Roy Barnes and our case and now in the life of the company."
This recent garbage saga began Nov. 7 when Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful awarded two exclusive contracts over 7-year-periods to Florida-based firms Advanced Disposal Services and Waste Pro. What this action would have done was force six current garbage haulers out of the county once the new plan took effect Jan. 1.
Because Southern Sanitation and Sanitation Solutions were small, local businesses with most of their work in Gwinnett, they argued they'd be forced out of business as a result of the new plan and filed suit seeking to keep things as they are. What they specifically had a problem with were two issues. The first dealt with a private, nonprofit corporation like Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful doing the county's business in enforcing the solid waste plan, and the second had to do with what the firms said were unfair bidding practices that favored large corporations.
In its ruling, the court agreed with them on both issues.
County Administrator Jock Connell said the county was still reviewing the ruling at 5:50 p.m. to make sure they understood it, but added that they would be releasing a statement in response to it within 24 hours.
Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful, the nonprofit private corporation that had been chosen by the county to enforce and manage the new waste plan, did deliver a statement in response to the 16-page ruling that came down at about 4 p.m.
"We are studying the court's order and considering legal alternatives," said Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful spokesperson Karen Miller. "Additionally, in view of the court's ruling, we are ready to assist the county to consider every possible way for the citizens of Gwinnett County to continue to receive solid waste disposal services."
Miller said more answers and guidelines to follow for affected residents would be forthcoming.
The court determined in its ruling that Gwinnett County did indeed delegate legislative authority to Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful in authorizing it to carry out and enforce its solid waste ordinance. The court said this was something not allowed under the Constitution.
"As a matter of fact, the court finds that Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Services has the right to set rates for residential customers, to regulate and set fees for commercial customers, to set rates for registration of new customers, to provide enforcement by a sworn deputy sheriff for violation of the ordinances and agreement, and to choose exclusive franchise providers and service areas," the ruling read. "The court finds that all of these are governmental and not merely administrative functions."
Prior to the ruling being issued, District 3 Commissioner Mike Beaudreau said he had a concern with the $500 fine that could be levied on residents for not being in compliance with the new ordinance.
"That's my biggest issue," Beaudreau said. "And I don't like this idea of a trash Gestapo either."
District 2 Commissioner Bert Nasuti had similar feelings.
"The fact is this still falls back on us and we have to address the issues," Nasuti said. "And now we'll get a chance to. But we're going to have to have a trash system that is more than what we had."
Nasuti added that he thought Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting ended on a good note despite numerous residents standing up to voice their displeasure with the proposed plan. He said he was taking notes in listening to them and now agrees with some of the people's complaints and frustrations.
"People need to understand that the changes implemented were driven by citizen complaints," he said. "But the people are raising some good points."
Nasuti said, like Beaudreau, he wasn't thrilled with the idea of a $500 fine either or with the fact that people couldn't voluntarily opt out of the program.
"If you take your trash to your place of business, that's a good point," he said. "And the issues with the bonding - I didn't know it was a $2 million bond that was required of haulers and that objection is a pretty legitimate point too," he said. "Should it be higher than $150,000? Maybe."
The court ruling issued further stated that the request for proposal process implemented by Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Services "violated basic competitive bidding procedures." The problems the court had involved the $2 million performance bond required of the two haulers to bid and the changing of the request for proposal process in the middle of that process while that process was still ongoing.
"During the process, the eight districts set forth in the request for proposal were reduced to six districts and all six districts were awarded to two providers," the ruling read. "This is contrary to the request for proposal and the Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Services' contract with Gwinnett County."
The ruling further stated that the performance bond, the $100,000 proposal fee and audited and reviewed financial statements "provided a high burden to local providers who, without contradiction, have been operating successfully and well in Gwinnett County for years."