Some heads were buried in the trash pile

The smell coming off the county's new trash plan has certainly drawn a lot of buzzing flies, but it's my contention that a lot of them were late to the party.

As I've written before, I don't have a problem with the intent of the trash plan, which is presumably to clean up the environment and streamline trash service. I do have a problem with doing it by eliminating competition, and I made my case for that in this space back in December.

Quite a few folks, however, have waited until the past few days or weeks to get upset and voice their opinion over the plan. As Commissioner Mike Beaudreau pointed out at Tuesday night's meeting, the time for that has passed. (The time is ripe, however, for getting upset over the allegedly illegal fees being charged by companies that lost the bid, but that's a different subject.)

No, what I'm talking about here is the late backlash to the plan itself and claims that no one knew about it. As Beaudreau said, there were ample opportunities to complain.

"Nooooooo!" you're screaming at me. "This was rammed down our throats," you're saying.

Au contraire:

· In December 2005 - nearly three years ago - the Daily Post reported that Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful Director Connie Wiggins had asked the county commission to study overhauling the waste disposal system. In that story, Wiggins made the first comments about reducing the number of haulers and trucks, and Commissioner Lorraine Green mentioned the idea of making trash pickup mandatory for all residents.

· In 2006 and 2007, Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful surveyed residents online about the proposed overhaul. Additionally, information was sent to 225,000 households in their water bills. By May, only 2,500 had responded.

· In March 2007, five public forums were held to solicit opinion over the trash plan. In the Post's story previewing the meetings, Wiggins said nothing had been finalized and no changes would be made until 2009.

· On March 15, 2007, the first public forum was held. Fifteen people showed up.

· Of the five forums that month, only 125 people attended.

· In June 2007, a 45-day online survey ended. About 2,800 people, representing about 1 percent of the affected households, responded.

· On Dec. 10, the county held a public hearing on the trash plan. This meeting was a little better attended, with about 100 people showing up, including representatives of trash haulers and many residents who opposed the plan, though supporters attended as well. Here, I will admit, was an example of timing that was awfully convenient for the plan's supporters, because the commission recommended the plan unanimously the very next day.

· The plan was vetted by the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs at the start of this year.

· The county commission unanimously approved the plan in April. It will take effect in January.

According to Wiggins' column in the Post earlier this month, about 5,000 people gave their opinion during the years the plan was under consideration.

Five thousand. In a county of 700,000.

If you hate the plan and you've been saying so for a year or two, well, then you've got a right to be upset, but at least you can comfort yourself by knowing you tried.

But if you hate the plan and you just found out about it, well, there's a phrase to describe folks like you.

Asleep at the wheel.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.