Waste management and its customers to face off at hearing

Aug 8, 2012

Were rural and unincorporated areas in King and Snohomish counties worse off than cities during the recent garbage strike?

A state commission is investigating Waste Management’s handling of service during the walk-out. There’s a public hearing tomorrow in Woodinville, looking at how replacement drivers were deployed.

The state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission has authority over trash hauling in unincorporated areas. It received more than 50 calls from customers, upset about their trash service during the strike. That prompted the investigation.

Public Information Officer Amanda Maxwell says they want to make sure customers outside of cities were served fairly.

‘So we really want to make sure that the company didn’t ignore those areas, just because of all these potential fines that the contract cities were threatening, ” Maxwell says.

She says cities such as Seattle and Kirkland may have been better served.  They threatened big fines against Waste Management for missed pick-ups.

The commissioners want to hear directly from customers if and when their trash was hauled during the walk-out and how that compares with what the company pledged to do in its contingency plans.

A Waste Management spokeswoman says the company is eager to explain how it set priorities for service during the strike, and that fines from cities were not an issue.

A letter from UTC Commissioner David Danner to Waste Management lays out the regulators' concerns. Details about how to submit comments are on the UTC website.

King County Council member Kathy Lambert represents the eastern part of King County that includes Woodinville, North Bend and Duvall. She says people in unincorporated areas outside those cities called her office to complain during the strike. They don’t have mayors to enforce hauling contracts. The state commission is where people have to report their complaints. Lambert thinks the county should be given authority over the contracts instead.

"Wherever you live in the county, you pay for your garbage collection. You deserve to have your garbage picked up in a manner that is timely and that is efficient, so that you don't have garbage strewn all over your neighborhood," Lambert says.

She says her constituents related issues with repeatedly moving their trash bins down long driveways and back, not knowing when pick ups would take place. And many of those areas have to be more wary of  inadvertently attracting wildlife such as bears or even mountain lions with smelly trash.

Her district includes just as many residents as the much smaller areas other county council members represent, but is nearly as large as all the rest put together. She says about a third of her constituents are in the unincorporated areas covered by state contracts administered by the UTC.

Without authority to enforce the contracts, the county cannot collect any fees that could be used to offset costs of, for example, letting residents drop off their own trash at the dump without paying, as Seattle did during the walk out.

Lambert and King County Executive Dow Constantine are urging a thorough investigation

Waste Management is still catching up on missed pick-ups. The strike disrupted collections for more than 200,000 customers. It ended when drivers voted to accept a contract last Thursday.