Gwinnett serves up another solid waste ordinance
By Patrick Fox
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
After 14 months, four lawsuits and thousands of dollars in legal fees, Gwinnett County has proposed a new solid waste ordinance to replace one shot down in court.
This ordinance, set to go into effect July 1, would require the county's 180,000 households located in unincorporated areas to sign up for trash service and would bill property owners on their tax statements. County officials have argued that more than 20,000 homes do not have trash service, leading to many cases of illegal dumping.
If approved by the commission Tuesday, the ordinance would establish five zones, each serviced by one hauler. There is nothing in the proposal specifying how those haulers will be selected.
Establishing a zone system of pickup raised the most debate at a series of public meetings last year attended by hundreds. A majority of residents opposed exclusive franchises, and wanted the option of choosing their own trash service. However, a sizable number of residents countered that establishing exclusive zones would improve safety for children and relieve congestion in neighborhoods since the county currently has 10 different haulers.
In April, the county shelled out $130,000 to a consulting firm to conduct surveys of residents and study similar counties with matching populations to help come up with a solid waste plan. The study results showed there was enough support to recommend required garbage collection at all residences. It did allow for exemptions, however, such as business owners with their own Dumpsters.
But there was a wide range of opinions about other issues, such as establishing exclusive franchise districts and billing on property tax statements.
The county is currently in negotiations to settle lawsuits totaling more than $80 million with five haulers over the failed 2008 ordinance. That plan, halted by Superior Court Judge Michael Clark before it could be implemented, awarded two haulers exclusive rights to six service zones. Those two haulers later sued the county for $40 million each. Three other haulers who lost their bids to participate also sued the county.
Additionally, a sixth hauler, Waste Industries, filed suit in U.S. District Court in December claiming county officials were on the verge of creating an "illegal and unconstitutional solid waste hauling program." In the lawsuit, Waste Industries predicted that the county would come up with this system as a way of settling pending litigation with the five haulers. County officials would not comment on any of the lawsuits.