OPELOUSAS — A proposal to introduce parishwide automated curbside garbage collection service in St. Landry Parish is generating a barrage of complaints from customers and parish officials.
Solid Waste Commission representatives were confronted with extensive criticism during a St. Landry Parish Council meeting last week about what some council members said are flaws in the method and potential costs for customers needing extra containers.
Progressive Waste Solutions, which has a parishwide contract to pick up garbage from 35,000 households, has been using garbage trucks with employees riding in the back who got off to grab the curbside bins.
Under the new contract, the trucks contain only a single driver who deploys a front-loading device that automatically moves trash containers from the curb and empties the contents into the vehicle.
Council member Timothy LeJeune was especially aggressive in expressing his concerns.
Some customers in his district, LeJeune said, have not received a 96-gallon trash container issued free to each household by Progressive.
Those containers are the only ones Progressive will use to collect garbage, said Katry Martin, executive director of the parish’s solid waste landfill.
LeJeune also said the Parish Council, which appoints five of the nine Solid Waste Commission members, was not notified by any of the commissioners of changes in the method of garbage service.
“Why did it change? All of a sudden there were changes and no one was told about them,” said LeJeune.
Martin denied that anything concerning the contract was done in secrecy.
“Discussions of the contract (with Progressive) and changes in the service have been ongoing with the commission for about a year,” Martin said.
Council member Wayne Ardoin said the council at one time received minutes of all commission meetings, but that practice has been halted over the last several years.
LeJeune noted the cost of garbage pickup is funded by a 0.82 percent parishwide sales tax first passed nearly 30 years ago. He questioned whether the commission, in altering the method of garbage service, has possibly violated the provisions of the tax.
“When the tax was passed, it was passed to pick up all the garbage. Now we find there are strings attached,” LeJeune said.
Commission attorney Chad Pitre said Progressive’s contract stipulates the company must pick up all garbage in the parish, despite the circumstances.
Martin said Progressive is required to send extra trucks, if necessary, to collect any remaining garbage.
LeJeune said trash and garbage in unincorporated areas is collected once a week. In the municipalities, residents have twice-a-week pickup.
Some customers outside city limits are upset because one container may not be large enough to hold a week’s worth of garbage.
Martin told the council if customers require more containers, they can purchase another one for $95.
“What concerns me is what are people going to do with the garbage that won’t fit? You’re telling me that if someone needs another container for garbage, another can will have to be purchased at personal expense? Some of the people in the district have also not received a cart and they have asked me when are they getting a container,” LeJeune said.
Ardoin told Commissioner Jodie Powell that the commission will at some point need to address the issue of container adequacy.
Powell said the commission discussed that matter at Tuesday’s meeting but decided to delay any action until all the containers are issued.
Lee Younge, who represented Progressive Waste at Tuesday’s meeting, said carts are being introduced in phases.
During an interview Tuesday, Younge said about 10,500 customers in Opelousas and some rural areas adjoining the city are already receiving automated cart service.
Martin told the council that households were notified by mail of changes in the collection service.
Younge, who was also at the council meeting, said he drove every road and street in the parish and performed a house count to determine the number of automated carts.
At the commission meeting, Young said some residences, which might appear as single-home dwellings, are converted into apartments, meaning more than one cart needs to be brought to those houses due to multiple customers.
Younge, in the interview, also said he relied on St. Landry’s 911 system to provide addresses. He said he also used water bills from the five companies that provide that service to parish residents.
“Some of the water companies did not cooperate and provide addresses of customers,” he said.