There was a lot of gossip, but no provocative sanctions resulted – just a decision by Mount Airy officials to purchase a second grapple truck to help with sanitation collections while abandoning an earlier proposal for brush carts.
Shirley Brinkley, a former city commissioner, also weighed in on a new automated garbage system that is part of this mix during a meeting last Thursday night.
All of these developments came after an update by Public Works Manager Mitch Williams at City Council on the automated system implemented earlier this year, which council requested after the system went live.
Williams said it was working well overall, including achieving a goal of reducing personnel costs through the acquisition of two automated side-loading garbage trucks for a total cost of $ 760,000.
This helps control the emptying of garbage trucks inside the cab, rather than by workers outside who ran the risk of filling trucks from behind using the old method.
“We’ve gone from 15 to 11,” Williams said of the number of employees in the sanitation division, which is due to attrition with department turnover.
This saves about $ 150,000 per year in personnel costs, he added.
Brush trolleys denied
The decision taken last January by municipal authorities to buy the automated trucks was accompanied by another proposal to provide 4,500 brush carts – at a cost of $ 270,000 – to residents to place garden waste such as as clippings and tree branches under the new process.
The idea was that owners would cut limbs, for example, into small pieces that could fit in carts and be loaded sideways into automated trucks.
The majority of the commissioners did not think that there was an overall need for these carts among the citizens, but chose to see how the new system has progressed during the year and to revisit this subject after further study.
And the final verdict is in favor of the brush carts, Williams recommended Thursday night in its update, which the commissioners later endorsed.
“These automated trucks are not made for brush,” he explained.
About 60% to 70% of the brush piles put into collection each week are either too big or too long to fit in carts or cans on automated trucks.
This requires employees to manually load the brush or it must be picked up by the only grapple truck in town at a later date.
It is difficult for workers to lift even smaller brushes in the front receptacles of vehicles, according to Williams’ presentation. And once in a truck box, the brush does not easily drop into a hopper in the back and sometimes falls off the top of the truck on the street.
Instead of adding the brush carts, Williams suggested purchasing a second grapple truck at an estimated cost of $ 185,000. A grapple or knuckle boom truck is a specially designed vehicle that has a retractable arm with a “grapple” hook that picks up bulky items.
This would allow the large piles of brush around the city to be removed more quickly and efficiently, as well as bulky items such as furniture thrown out during spring cleaning campaigns.
The target collection time is one week for “typical-sized heaps”, according to the presentation. This can intensify during spring events – complicated by a failure of the only grapple truck this year and the use of a private contractor at a cost of around $ 7,000.
“Nobody likes to see sofas and mattresses on the street,” said the public works director, describing the need for a rescue vehicle.
Commissioners accepted Williams’ recommendation to buy the grapple while avoiding the brush carts, which can still be purchased by citizens who want these containers at $ 65 each.
Board members approved a budget amendment 5-0 on Thursday night for the acquisition of the truck.
The implementation of the new automated system went smoothly overall, although there were some hiccups – some literally.
“Drivers quickly adapted to the new trucks,” said Williams, who recognized some tuning issues along the way.
“We had conflicts with overhead power lines,” he said, due to the height of the new trucks and the encounter with low cables. This included an affected phone line as well as a power line that knocked down poles and interrupted service to half a dozen residents.
Williams said the sanitation unit has worked with utility providers to bring up lines in problem areas.
Meanwhile, there have been issues with lids on garbage carts left open and carts turning over after being emptied, especially along streets with no curbs that provide some stability.
Former South Ward Commissioner Shirley Brinkley addressed the issue in a public forum at the meeting.
“I’ve seen more with the lids open than closed,” Brinkley said of the carts, causing issues including filling containers with rainwater.
It is difficult for residents with physical limitations to straighten carts after turning them over and leaving them that way, the former commissioner said, citing an injury to one person’s wrist. Brinkley also said broken glass littered a street.
Williams says teams are trying to minimize this problem by becoming more adept with joystick controls inside automated trucks in an effort to leave carts and lids in the correct position.
“I hope that over time it will get better.”
Williams said there had also been issues with the carts waiting to be emptied being misplaced by residents.
Officials said carts should be placed along streets with handles facing residences, as automated trucks cannot turn carts on the correct side. Requiring personnel to leave the cab and move the carts in that position defeats the purpose of the automated system.
Much like most other aspects of society, COVID-19 has been a hindrance, including several drivers needing to be quarantined.
“It has been a challenge to keep the drivers in the trucks,” said the director of public works.
“We couldn’t have started automation at a worse time because of COVID. “