2017-12-15 / Community

South Portland looks to restrict trash haulers

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland City Council is poised to limit the hours when trash haulers can empty commercial dumpsters in some areas of the city, as well as well paving and construction work can occur.

District 1 Councilor Claude Morgan introduced the topic at a Nov. 6 meeting. The issue was then deemed pressing enough that it leapfrogged over nearly 25 other workshop topics on the council’s to do list, some of which have been waiting since as far back as February, landing it on the agenda for the Nov. 27 session.

“I am being flooded with complaints from folks in my district and in Knightville,” Morgan said. As an example, Morgan said, one local trash hauler, later identified as Troiano Waste Services, starts its route as early as 3:30 a.m. and has allegedly refused all entreaties to amend its work schedule, given no city ordinance specifically limiting hours of operation.

“Folks are losing sleep over it,” Morgan said. “That’s intolerable and there’s no excuse for it, but we are given short shrift because we do not have the language to bring him to the table.”

As a solution, Morgan moved to bar commercial trash haulers from operating between the hours of 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. in three residential zones (A, AA and G), as well as in any other zone if a residence is less than 500 feet away. That would match current prohibitions on construction and excavation the in residential zones. However, Morgan proposed extending the time and distance limits on that kind of work to all zones, unless a special exception permit is issued by the city council.

Most members of the council supported the idea, although some suggested a one hour shift at either end of the trash ban, from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., might be more appropriate.

The one exception was Councilor Brad Fox.

“I have never, ever heard a complaint about these trucks coming,” he said. “And we can’t have them coming when people are trying to commute (to work and school). It would just block up our streets. It would totally destroy the neighborhood. People would just go insane.”

However, Morgan drew wide support from audience members, who said there are too many dump trucks operating too loudly, too late at night.

“My wife and I are woken up more nights than not by dumpsters being emptied and by delivery trucks. I’ve counted 14 (trash) dumpsters in the quarter mile between Terra Cotta Pasta and DiPietro’s, and they are emptied at all hours of the evening,” said Craggmere Avenue resident Scott Douglas.

“I am constantly woken up by the beep, beep, beep,” agreed Ocean Street resident Julie Suiter, referring to the government mandated back-up signal required on all large commercial vehicles.

“It’s driving me effin nuts,” Suiter said. “I’m out there in the morning in my slippers and bathrobe, yelling at people. I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t know what to do anymore. I can’t continue to be woken up all night, almost every night, constantly.”

Suiter also pointed out how lack of sleep can affect job performance. And in her case, as a paramedic/firefighter, that weariness can present a danger to others, as well as herself.

“I can’t to go to work the next day and make a mistake,” she said. “I can’t afford it because I’m dealing with people’s lives.”

Many of the speakers said they’ve tried to impress upon trash haulers and their commercial customers, the full nature of the problem.

“You guys aren’t listening,” E Street resident Donna Snow said, turning to the haulers in the audience.

“They always say, ‘Hey, we’re just trying to do our job.’”

Thompson Street resident Peter Cooke agreed.

“Well, what about my job? Two or three in the morning is too early to be out there using heavy machinery. I asked a cop and said, ‘Hey, if I was out there at four in the morning mowing my lawn, would you tell me to stop?’ and he said, ‘Yes, I would.’

“The businesses need to think about what it means to be neighborly and not just, ‘We got to get the work done,’” Cooke said.

In addition to early morning dumpster pick ups, overnight construction is also a problem, speakers said. According to D Street resident Melanie Wiker, she complained that during three nights in September a contractor started as early as 2 a.m. to repair the Shaw’s parking lot in Mill Creek.

“They were paving, jackhammering, doing everything,” Wiker said. “The police said they had a permit. In the end, no permit. What do we do? That’s the question. It got stuck at code enforcement. As as for the trash haulers, they are not listening to code enforcement at all. They always have an excuse – we have a new driver, it was a new route. I am over that.”

City Manager Scott Morelli said in a Dec. 1 email to the Sentry that the Shaw’s work did not need a permit because it was not in a residential zone. Thus, there was nothing for code enforcement to enforce. Still, the city has updated zoning rules in the past year with the specific goal of trying to encourage more residential development in the Mill Creek area.

The haulers, meanwhile, said it is simply too hard to do their job at any hour when people are out commuting to work, school and running daily errands.

“We understand our trucks are loud. There’s no doubt about it,” said. T. J. Troiano, second-generation owner of Troiano Waste Services. “And we know dumping containers is a nuisance in areas at certain times. But there’s a reality as to why we dump some containers really early.”

“Trash is a hot button no matter what community we are in,” said Nate Chapman, general manager of Pine Tree Waste. “Nobody wants to deal with it, but everybody wants it to go away. It’s very very difficult, even impossible at times for us to be in certain areas of the city at 8, 9, 10 a.m., or even 1 p.m. Forget about it, you’re not going to get through the route.”

“If we send a truck into Knightville at 6, 7, 8 in the morning, it’s going to be bad. There’s going to be accidents,” Troiano employee John Casey said. “We don’t do it to – pardon my language – to piss people off. It really is the only time that we can get in there and get it done safely.”

Only one person in the audience, Brigham Street resident Russ Lunt, sided with the haulers.

“These guys are right. It’s really the only time of day they can do it,” he said. “There are some places, there’s no way on Lord’s earth you can get in and out of there at 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning. Cottage Road – it’s highway. You can’t back out onto that at certain times, even with a flagger. There’s just no way. It’s a tough thing, but there are just some times of day you can’t do it.”

Asked if he could use a flagger to help back trucks onto city streets during late-morning and afternoon hours, Troiano said, “There is absolutely a cost to putting a flagger in the truck. There’s also a problem of trying to find people who’d actually want to do that job. It’s going to be pass-through cost.”

One member of the audience who spoke was Brick Hill resident Adrian Dowling, who switched sides and now is on the council dais following the Dec. 4 inauguration.

“As a migraine sufferer, when you are trying to sleep one of those off and you hear a dumpster crashing to the ground at 3 a.m. it really feels like someone is stabbing you with ice picks in the head,” Dowling said. “But it’s not so much the time of night, it’s the behaviors of these operators of these vehicles.

“I live near the Long Creek Youth Center,” Dowling said, “and the driver who does that route, he comes flying in there like a bat out of hell, slams on the jake brake – it sounds like there’s a locomotive coming through my apartment – speeds up again, slams on the brake. These are not just necessary behaviors in a residential neighborhood.

“Do they have the ability to control the velocity with which that dumpster hits the pavement?” Dowling asked. “I think maybe being a little gentler and not driving like a maniac could solve 90 percent of these problems.”

Troiano said his company recently spent $5,000 per truck to install “D valves” designed to slow and cushion the movement of the mechanical arms that lift and empty the dumpsters. Troiano also has two“newer, quieter trucks on order, with four more to come next year, he said.

Some on the council welcomed that news, but others, like Councilor Eben Rose, said the city should not back off Morgan’s ordinance proposal just because it might hit local businesses in the wallet.

“We are all in our little bubbles, but when you break that bubble and get into other people’s space, you can’t write that off as just doing business,” he said. “It’s not really our issues, how you manage your business to keep costs low. Our concern has to be about the residents of South Portland. If you end up having to take on extra staff, or pay overtime, those really aren’t our things to regulate.

“If it ends up costing you more, you’ll end up passing that on to your customers, undoubtedly,” Rose said. “But for now, it seem like not much to ask to change the management a little bit in order to let people sleep. That’s a basic expectation. And Maybe the pressure of having these pass-through costs will help us understand our waste management, help people who are hiring your services and you who are offering these services, consider ways of managing trash.

“In the long term, 10 years on, maybe we won’t be having big dumpsters and be so profligate in dumping large amounts of waste, maybe we’ll be able to stream it in other ways,” Rose said. “Hopefully, with little pressures like this, we’ll be inching toward that kind of solution.”

Mayor Patti Smith, in her last meeting on the council, struck a similar chord.

“In the future, we may have more RRRs – reduce, reuse, and recycle –and we won’t have as many trash bins, because their costs are too expensive as businesses. That’s another way of getting a ‘better good’ for the community,” she said.

Other members of the council sounded equally lined up behind Morgan.

“You can’t put a value on losing sleep. When people talk about this, I get it. I really do get it,” Councilor Linda Cohen said, referring to her time as city clerk, when she might be up until 1 a.m. running an election after being awoken by a trash hauler at 3 a.m. the previous morning.

“I was getting so angry when it would happen that I was afraid I was going to have a stroke because I was so upset,” she said.

“There are 25 to 30 dumpsters in Knightville,” said Councilor Sue Henderson. “And in Knightville, you could live in certain places and hear practically all of them.”

Still, Morgan ended by saying his proposal to increase restrictions on trash haulers has been a long time coming.

“I want to emphasize, the idea behind any penalty – a speeding ticket, anything – it’s not to disburse punishment or dole out the bad stuff, it’s to encourage voluntary compliance,” he said. “Unfortunately, we have tried for almost a year to work something out, specifically with Troiano. We have had numerous conversations. The city has sent them a certified letter with notice of violation of our codes. But it’s not working.

“Will we issue penalties? I hope not,” Morgan said. “But can we? I hope we can. Because that may be the only way to offer relief to our residents.”

Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington can be reached a news@inthesentry.com.

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