LAWRENCEVILLE - The county's ongoing garbage saga continued in Superior Court on Thursday with one theme emerging from the four-hour-plus session - the garbage is being picked up, but there is still ongoing confusion on the streets.
It was the same four garbage haulers that won a preliminary injunction last month stopping the implementation of the county's solid waste plan that brought everyone back to court this time, with one little difference - the beef these haulers had now wasn't with the county or Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful, but was rather with a fellow garbage hauler that they claimed had an unfair competitive advantage.
And what these four haulers - Southern Sanitation, Sanitation Solutions, Allied Waste Services and Robertson Sanitation - had a problem with was the way Waste Pro was carrying on its business in light of Judge Michael Clark's ruling last month. That ruling kept the status quo for garbage collection service in unincorporated Gwinnett County in effect until the county can implement a new plan.
According to the four haulers' attorneys - Roy Barnes and Robert Norman Jr. - Waste Pro was "bearing the fruits of an illegal contract" and not being proactive enough about telling Gwinnett residents they had a choice in haulers now.
Waste Pro was one of the two haulers originally selected to service half the county when the new plan would have taken effect Jan. 1. Company officials testified Thursday that they began billing what would have been their new customers on Dec. 1 for service in the first quarter of this year.
According to Norman and Barnes, since the court's ruling Dec. 18, Waste Pro continued to deliver invoices to some of the customers it would have gained and continued to deliver carts to those same customers. They also said the company wasn't acting quickly enough to refund customers who'd already paid those invoices.
"Waste Pro was quick on the trigger to bill and they should be quick on the trigger to refund," Barnes said.
"Waste Pro is trying to enjoy the fruits of a monopoly," Norman said. "Advanced (Disposal Services) isn't doing that."
Advanced Disposal Services was the other hauler originally chosen by the county to service the county's other half of residences in what would have been the new solid waste plan.
Waste Pro's attorneys countered that the firm stopped delivering carts about Dec. 20 and is still in the process of refunding those who've paid for service that have requested a refund. They said it would take three to four weeks to get those refunds back to people. Judge Clark urged the company to expedite that process as quickly as possible, especially since his ruling was handed down nearly one month ago now.
"The refunds need to get done immediately," he said. "I'm concerned that there is $250,000 in refunds just floating around out there."
In the end, it was the testimony of Waste Pro's office manager Chrisy Grant that seemed to get all sides on the same page and into an agreement with how to resolve the latest incident. Grant testified that before the new agreement would have went into effect, the company serviced more than 12,000 residences in Gwinnett. As a result of those invoices mailed in December, she said the company picked up somewhere between 3,000 to 5,000 new customers.
What the parties agreed to Thursday was that those new customers obtained by Waste Pro would be sent a letter, drafted by Judge Clark, which would tell them that they do indeed have a choice of garbage hauler and could return to their old hauler if they'd like to. The letter would also explain that if they'd like a refund for a payment made to Waste Pro, then all they have to do is mail back the enclosed form and a check will be issued and their account closed. Waste Pro will assume the mailing expenses. Grant acknowledged that their phones have been ringing off the hook since the Dec. 18 ruling and that many of those calls are because people want a refund.
"We blew a circuit," she said. "BellSouth even had to come out and climb the poll."