2017-12-15 / Front Page

Apology: hazardous waste collection had issues

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — South Portland saw record participation in its annual household hazardous waste collection day at the Highland Avenue transfer station Nov. 18, processing more than 700 vehicles, far eclipsing the previous high of about 500.

“This exceptional level of public participation also presented some real logistical challenges,” wrote Fred Dillon, the city’s stormwater program coordinator, in a memo to the city council. But as City Manager Scott Morelli pointed out when reading Dillon’s memo at the November 20 council meeting, most on the council were probably well aware of those challenges, just based on the number of calls and emails each received following the event.

“During the busiest time of day, the line of traffic for participation residents was over a mile long,” Dillon wrote. “With wait times of up to two hours, some residents expressed frustration with how slowly the line of traffic was moving.”

Environmental firm Clean Harbors provided 12 people to process household waste, Dillon said, while Northcoast Services sent eight people to process e-waste. The bottleneck was created, Dillon reported, because most participants brought both items of material and, so, had to be run through both drop-off stations, while “miscommunication between vendors, staff, and volunteers,” created confusion over exactly what types of items could be accepted. Clean Harbors initially rejected rechargeable batteries and fluorescent bulbs, while Northcoast turned away air conditioners and dehumidifiers. Participants were initially directed to the regular transfer station to pay a fee for disposal, and many did, before the fees were waived. With the line running so long, Dillon said he made the decision to start turning people away 30 minutes before the end of the 1 p.m. advertised end of collection. Even so, it was reportedly not until after 3 p.m. when the last participants made it through the gate.

According to Morelli, he met with staffers from the public works, sustainability, and water resource protection departments on Nov. 20 to work out improvements.

Among the resulting recommendations: Hold such events twice per year, pay Clean Harbors and Northcoast to send more workers, consider staging household and e-waste collection on separate days or put the two drop-off stations further apart, change the collection day to Sunday to avoid conflict with those bringing only yard waste to the transfer station, and more carefully review vendor contracts to make sure advertisements match and don’t simply go by what was accepted the previous year, along with extending event hours.

“We apologize greatly for the hassle that not only folks visiting this event had to endure, but also those just trying to travel down Highland Avenue for a good part of the day,” Morelli said.

In a Dec. 12 interview, Morelli said he and staffers will meet again Jan. 10 to go over the list recommendations to cull out the ones most likely to mitigate future issues.

“One that seems to be very popular with the public is twice per year collections,” he said, adding that the most recent event was, “a good lesson learned.”

Return to top