Haulers are back in place
Old contracts given 120-day extension

LAWRENCEVILLE - County officials Tuesday took the first steps necessary to ensure residents' garbage will be picked up once 2009 hits calendars next week, but the issue could be back in court soon.

That first step entailed extending the service agreements it had in place with eight residential garbage haulers for 120 days while at the same time allowing one more to operate in this new, temporary environment.

"The county's first order of business is to make sure that a group of approved waste haulers is in place and working in January," said County Administrator Jock Connell in a released statement. "Gwinnett is back to a multi-provider approach with residents choosing their trash haulers based on their ability to provide service as authorized by county government."

The move comes in response to an injunction granted last week by Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Michael Clark which in effect told the county it couldn't delegate its authority to manage and enforce its 2009 solid waste plan to the nonprofit, private corporation Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful.

The injunction was sought by local garbage haulers Southern Sanitation and Sanitation Solutions after the companies complained of unfair request for proposal requirements that were put into place by Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful during the bidding process. At the conclusion of the bidding process, two exclusive contracts were awarded to Advanced Disposal Service Atlanta and Waste Pro of Georgia to service unincorporated Gwinnett.

On Tuesday, Advanced Disposal Service Atlanta was allowed the right to begin servicing residential clients once the new year hits because it didn't service residences in unincorporated Gwinnett under the 2008 service agreement. The firm currently only services commercial businesses, although it does have exclusive residential contracts with the incorporated cities of Norcross and Berkeley Lake.

According to Advanced Disposal's Chief Marketing Officer Mary O'Brien, the move Tuesday by the county allows it to offer its services to unincorporated residents in 2009 for at least 120 days.

"The biggest concern for us is our commitment to the residents of Gwinnett County to ensure they have garbage service in 2009," O'Brien said. "Our other big commitment is to making sure residents who paid us for service get their money back should they like to stay with their old hauler."

O'Brien also said that Advanced Disposal had already delivered 40,000 garbage carts to what it thought would have been its 90,000 new customers come Jan. 1. She said the firm will stop delivering those carts now in light of the court injunction and in January will begin notifying residents by mail about when those carts will be picked up. Along these lines, she also said the company will not deliver the 90,000 recycling carts that were also ordered and scheduled for delivery.

O'Brien added that the company "bent over backwards" to fulfill the requirements of the contract it had with Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful on short notice and said "tens of millions" of dollars already had been invested into what was supposed to be the new program. She said that investment came in the purchase of new trucks and the hiring of 60 new employees. She said 30 of those hired already had to be let go because of the court's decision. She said the company was trying to find a future for the other 30 now. She also left open the possibility for future legal action.

"We believe the contracts signed are valid and were made in good faith." O'Brien said. "The future could potentially involve litigation."

According to Joe Sorenson, a spokesman for the county, as of 1:30 p.m. Tuesday the newly opened trash call center managed by eight employees had taken 150 calls from concerned residents in its first day.

Sorenson said the call center will be closed today and Christmas Day but will be open again at 8 a.m. Friday for anyone who has questions about their garbage service.

The number for the center is 770-822-7141. Additional information and phone numbers for the nine garbage haulers that can service the county are also available at www.gwinnettcounty.com. Sorenson said Gwinnett officials are advising residents to contact their prospective trash hauler about setting up or continuing their service in 2009.

"Residents need to understand that the underlying court case is ongoing and will take several months to resolve," Connell said. "The county will revisit the solid waste ordinance in 2009 to determine the best plan to ensure that we reduce waste and increase recycling opportunities while providing the best possible plan for our residents. We appreciate our residents' and the current waste haulers' patience as we navigate through this process."

In related news, Waste Industries also announced Dec. 19 that it will refund its customers the $23.50 demobilization/deactivation fee it had previously levied on them. In a letter to its customers posted on the company's Web site, it said "it was happy to announce that Waste Industries is issuing a credit for the fee."