Solid waste pickup saga simmers as Pittsfield councilors weigh in

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PITTSFIELD — Tempers cooled Wednesday in the wake of a solid waste snafu, but city councilors said public displeasure still smoldered.

"The whole thing is a nightmare," Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers told The Eagle. "I had four hours of emails and calls to return on this issue."

Councilors expressed frustration over a communication breakdown that, over the past week, prompted widespread confusion regarding how the city's trash pickup program would run. The issue began at the start of the month, when some residents saw their trash stickered and rejected because of new enforcement protocols that Mayor Linda Tyer said Tuesday she never authorized.

Tyer rolled back the new protocols Tuesday. While they aligned with the city's existing solid waste ordinance, which has gone largely unenforced for several years, she said they were the product of a miscommunication between the Resource Recovery Commission and the city's trash hauler, Republic Services.

Councilors said the issue confounded an already sensitive process of overhauling the city's solid waste ordinance, which the Ordinances and Rules Committee of the City Council is undertaking.

"The whole thing — I'm just, I'm blown away," Councilor At Large Melissa Mazzeo said. "It's not the right way to do it."

Councilors said the mix-up left them juggling angry phone calls about a topic they themselves knew nothing about.

"How the trash changed overnight without communication, I found frustrating," Councilor At Large Earl Persip III said. "Rumors and miscommunication just spread throughout social media when things like that happen. I don't know where the communication broke down, but it definitely broke down."

Councilors said the tide of furious phone calls and messages ebbed into Wednesday, and Tyer said her retraction of pickup protocols also made for a smoother day at City Hall.

"It was much quieter in our office today than it was on Monday," she said.

Tyer also noted one silver lining amid the mess: Residents are coming to City Hall to pick up free recycling bins. She said that underscored a renewed commitment to recycling.

Councilor At Large Pete White said the mayor's rollback calmed tensions that roiled residents earlier in the week.

"There has definitely not been as many heated questions thrown at us," he said, noting, "I'm sure there are people who are still upset it happened at all."

To that point, other councilors said the damage already was done.

"It's already set a precedent with people," Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell said. "They're very upset."

Connell said he also was hearing from residents who went out and bought new bins in light of the would-be enforcement protocols and were concerned about the way they'd be treated by Republic staff. He said they've historically been rough on curbside containers, leaving them broken or astray.

Deb Bolesky, general manager for Republic Services of Pittsfield, said she had address the issue with her staff.

"We'll give a reminder to drivers," she told The Eagle. "We take great pride in the work that we do and we all care about how the community looks."

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol said he found the lack of communication surrounding the enforcement measures concerning, but beyond that, he said he hopes the city finally can fix its solid waste ordinance and graduate to other important issues.

"My gosh, can we just move on?" Krol said, noting schools, roads and economic development as issues he'd like the council to spend time on. "This has been a very disproportionately large proportion of the city's attention for far too long."

Ward 3 Councilor Nick Caccamo, who is playing an active role in the issue as part of the Ordinances and Rules Committee, said it's challenging to land on a program that achieves everyone's goals.

"With all the different proposals, opinions on the table, it continues to be difficult to find that `Goldilocks' zone for a sustainable municipal program," he said.

White said he'd like to see residents bring their input to the next Ordinances and Rules Committee meeting at 7 p.m. June 4.

"I think we need to have a good community conversation," he said of the solid waste issue. "It's a huge part of the budget. It deserves as much conversation as it's getting."

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.

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