Weather halts trash collection

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Last year it was a new fee on trash collection that caused a stink in Grayson County, but this year it's the lack of collection that has residents and supervisors up in arms.

Supervisor Joe Vaughan took the opportunity to bring up the concern during the supervisors' regular meeting last Wednesday night.

Vaughan said some arrangement needed to be made to let people know when — and if — their trash is going to be collected on a given day.

He said some of his constituents have called him complaining that their trash had only been collected twice since Christmas.

"If the trash is not going to run, it needs to be on the radio," Vaughan told County Administrator Jonathan Sweet. "We need a better communication with the people."

Sweet said he understands the concern and that the Public Works Department has been experiencing a tough time in this very challenging winter. He noted that the department has already had two significant accidents, one of which was a head-on collision and another a side-impact situation.

Just as the school system has missed the last three-plus weeks of school because of bad roads, the trash trucks are simply unable to make it up many roads in the county.

Sweet said, however, that workers have been driving an SUV around, attempting to go up some backroads and bring the trash to the main road where the larger truck can collect it.

In Whitetop, the department has put a trash truck at the Whitetop Community Center so residents can bring trash on their way out.

Sweet added that the department has incurred several wrecker bills and, in one case, a truck had to be pulled out with a wrecker twice in one day.

"These guys are giving it their best effort," he told the board. "They are literally putting their lives in jeopardy each day. This weather, we've just never seen anything like it."

Vaughan, who drives a bus for the school system, said he understood the trucks could not get on some of the roads.

Just days earlier, Vaughan said he drove his bus route in his personal vehicle and "couldn't image taking a bus or anything on those roads." He added that they were some of the worst road conditions he had ever seen.

His problem, however, is that residents aren't being notified. If they set their trash out, and it's not collected, dogs and other animals can tear into the bags, causing a mess on the side of the road.

"I know its been rough this winter, but we need to let people know early every morning," he said.

Sweet said that may be where the county is shooting itself in the foot. "Our intention a lot of mornings is to pick up the trash. They are picking up some of the trash, just not all the trash."

The problem with a notification system is that there is nothing uniform about the county's collection efforts. If a crew encounters a road on a route they can't make it up, they simply move on.

Sweet added that the county is making announcements on Galax radio station WBRF- 98.1 FM and that this process continues to be a work in progress.

"These guys are really trying," he said. "I know folks are getting frustrated."

Supervisor Mike Maynard reiterated the response that it's not the fact that the trash isn't collected, it's that people don't know if and when it will be. He asked if there could be some sort of snow route the trucks could follow, allowing people to get the trash to a main road.

"That's a good thought," Sweet said. "But with the kind of weather we've experienced, we don't even know which main roads are clear. Our intention is to deliver that service... but these trucks just aren't equipped for snow. Our intentions are good — we're just not able to deliver."

Vaughan then asked if, when a Monday route was cancelled, it could be run on Saturday instead, noting that many of the workers could go home on Monday and work Saturday.

Sweet said it is possible, but that many of those employees, if they aren't running trash, they are greasing trucks, making repairs and such at the shop.

Sweet asked the supervisors and residents to have patience as the department attempts to work around the inclement weather conditions.