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Trash Complaints Still Vex City Leaders, Residents

Waste hauler has gotten better, says mayor, but he’s not happy

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
October 21, 2020
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

McKeesport officials remain unhappy with service from County Hauling and may go “in a different direction” when the current contract expires.

At this month’s council meeting, Mayor Michael Cherepko said service from the company has improved from a few months ago, when he and other city officials were accompanying trash trucks on their routes and picking up missed garbage.

“They definitely have gotten better,” he said. “Am I happy? No. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we go in a different direction.”

In response to questions from Tube City Almanac, a spokesman for the Rostraver Twp. based company said they “apologize for any inconvenience to residents” and urged them to “reach out to us directly so we can resolve isolated issues.”

“County Hauling and its employees work hard every day to better serve the customers of McKeesport,” said spokesman Ro Rozier in a statement. “We have had a dedicated route supervisor since the beginning of August, as well as a new director of customer service in our customer contact center.”

County Hauling’s customer service number is (724) 929-7694.

County Hauling was awarded a one-year contract in November 2019 to collect the city’s waste and recyclables, beginning Jan. 1. The company replaced Big’s Sanitation.

Before awarding the contract, McKeesport officials had leased several trash trucks and were preparing to collect garbage and recycling with the city’s own public works employees.

That changed, city officials said, after the bottom dropped out of the recycling market and made the cost prohibitive.

But soon after County Hauling crews took over service in McKeesport, residents voiced their frustration in calls to city hall and posts on social media.

Haler Heights resident Jim Tomko told council this month that County Hauling crews have left trash and refuse in the street and damaged residents’ garbage cans.

He also questioned the whereabouts of the trucks that were leased by the city.

Two of the smaller trucks have been sold to County Hauling, Cherepko said. The city retained three of the larger trucks “for obvious reasons,” he said, though he stopped short of saying that McKeesport is again planning to collect its own trash.

Councilman Jim Barry Jr. said he also has fielded complaints about trash collection, including reports that greasy, liquid refuse has spilled onto city streets. “In the summertime, it stunk,” he said. “They have leaky trucks.”

Cherepko said McKeesport firefighters have been dispatched on several occasions to wash down streets following trash collections.

“To sum it up, they’re still far from good,” he said. “The sustainability of what they’re doing is also a concern. But I haven’t had to pick up garbage (myself) in about six months.”

Rozier said that County Hauling services 11,200 customers in McKeesport, with a miss rate “around 0.0018,” or 20 homes. An estimated half of those homes “turn out to be customers who unintentionally put their trash out late,” he said, but the company “(does) our best to return and collect it anyway.”

Rozier did not specifically address complaints that trash trucks have left refuse and liquids in the street, but said County Hauling has transitioned to new trucks that are natural-gas powered.

County Hauling’s parent company also owns Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill and has an energy plant on-site to capture, clean and refine waste gases.

The new trucks, Rozier said, are powered by that landfill gas.

Tomko questioned the process by which city council awarded the contract to County Hauling.

“When a contract is put out, I know it’s supposed to be the lowest bidder, but it’s also supposed to be the lowest responsible bidder,” he said.

Cherepko said council and the mayor’s office will take residents’ complaints into account when they consider options for trash hauling.

“We’re now at the point where we would have enough information to make a decision,” he said.

Recycling remains a key problem area, Cherepko said.

According to reports in the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets, the recycling industry was thrown into chaos when Chinese officials announced their country would no longer accept recyclables from the United States for processing.

“Recycling has changed drastically,” Cherepko said. “Right now, it’s costing us money to recycle. It would be cheaper just to throw it into the garbage,” but he added the city was not thinking of doing that.

One problem, Cherepko said, is that well over half of the materials put into recycling bins are contaminated with food waste or are otherwise not recyclable.

“We’re trying to educate people about recycling, but it’s a major concern,” he said.

Jason Togyer is editor of The Tube City Almanac and volunteer executive director of Tube City Community Media Inc. He may be reached at jtogyer@gmail.com.

Originally published October 21, 2020.

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