Collecting Trash

Collecting Trash

County plan calls for study of consolidating pickups from businesses, apartments.

Early Saturday morning, John Antonelli observed a moment of silence for Ronald Reagan. As president, Reagan inspired then college age Antonelli by cutting back on government services.

Later Saturday, Antonelli called on government to expand in Arlington: he urged the county to take over all trash collections, for homes, businesses and apartment buildings. Some waste industry owners said that act could drive them out of business.

County Board members voted unanimously to approve a Solid Waste Management Plan at their June 12 meeting.

The Solid Waste Management Plan is a report required by the state Department of Environmental Quality, detailing how well the county’s waste management systems comply with state regulations, and also discussing changes the county plans to make in the next five years. Arlington is in full compliance with state regulations, County Manager Ron Carlee said.

But county plans for waste management attracted more discussion. At present, garbage collection from county homes is contracted out by the county, but Arlington businesses and apartment buildings are free to make their own collection arrangements.

The county’s solid waste plan proposes establishing a county franchise over those collections, then contracting those services out to between one and five private companies.

Early this month, managers of private companies that pick up trash from Arlington businesses learned of those plans. “That would eliminate the competitive market place,” Peter Crane, AAA Recycling and Trash Services general manager, warned the board.

Conrad Mehan took it a step further. “I do have concerns, serious concerns, about our survival,” said Mehan, general manager of Potomac Disposal Services.

<b>COUNTY OFFICIALS CAUTIONED</b> against alarmist readings of the solid waste plan. What it actually proposes is a feasibility study of county contracting for business and apartment garbage collection, a study that in any case couldn’t be implemented for five years.

“Our action today sets up a process,” said Board Chair Barbara Favola. “It doesn’t, in any way, initiate any steps of the process.”

There was no evidence yet that the county should take control of commercial and apartment collections, Carlee said. “I’m not convinced at this time that franchising the entire county is the right idea.”

Under the Solid Waste Management Plan, the Board would issue a five-year notice of intent to assume control of commercial collections, then conduct a study of the proposal for that time. By 2009, the county might or might not decide to take over garbage collections at businesses and apartment buildings.

But Mehan said that five-year window was not a source of relief. “That is basically telling the hauling community, you will be out of business in five years,” he said.

<b>COMPANIES COULD SURVIVE</b> through residential and business contracts in Fairfax. However, Mehan said, “a lot of the smaller companies do not operate in Fairfax, or the percentage of their Arlington revenue is such that they could not survive on Fairfax business.”

One of haulers’ biggest worries is that the county will not take the business impact of county franchising into consideration. When the county took over residential garbage collection, “my company lost 32 percent of its business,” said Joanne McCoy, president of Alexandria-based Champion Services.

A government contract is most likely to go to a larger waste collector, haulers said, since those businesses have more trucks and resources, and can provide lower bids than small businesses in many cases.

As the owner of a small business, McCoy said she is especially vulnerable to the county’s decision on business and apartment waste. Losing those routes could be a death knell, she said.

Board members and staff were sympathetic to her plight. “[County contracting of] residential collections didn’t do so well for small businesses,” said Board member Paul Ferguson, asking if there was a way to provide for the survival of small garbage collection businesses.

“How do we ensure small and minority-owned businesses have access to franchising?” Carlee asked. “That’s something I want to work … on.”