Latest collection woes blamed on staffing issues
BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE
The Niagara Region’s latest problem with garbage collection contractor Emterra was blamed on staffing issues last week. That differed somewhat from previous collection delays, most of which have been blamed on broken-down garbage trucks.
“They had a number of people on Monday that called in [sick],” said Catherine Habermebl, the Region’s Acting Commissioner of Public Works, on Friday. “They also have a number of people are off on long-term right now. They only had 58 trucks out on Monday, and they probably need around 68.”
In south Fonthill, Monday’s collection of brown-bagged yard waste didn’t happen until midday Tuesday. From those delays on Monday, the problem created a domino effect through the week. On Thursday, the trash wasn’t picked up on its scheduled day in parts of Fonthill.
By then, the Niagara Region website was advising residents that all collection was delayed by at least a day.
On Friday, Habermebl said that Emterra was able to get relief thanks to bringing in eight trucks from Peel Region.
North Pelham resident John Newlove normally has his garbage collected on Tuesdays. When it hadn’t been picked up by Wednesday night, he contacted both the Region and the Voice.
“Imagine going to Tim Horton’s and them telling you, ‘We can’t give you coffee, our coffee maker is broken. Come back later,’” Newlove wrote in an email.
He was happy to discover, however, that the next day a Region employee came by his house to take his complaint—then removed Newlove’s trash and that of his neighbours with his own truck.
“He’s a great guy. I really appreciated that,” Newlove said, noting he was going away for a week and didn’t want to leave the rotting garbage out. “But the system’s a mess.”
Not as fortunate were most other Pelham residents, whose trash was still outside by the time temperatures began rising on Friday morning.
“What the **** is going on? Don’t we pay taxes for this?” Strathcona Drive resident Adam Metz asked Friday morning, a few hours before his garbage was finally picked up, a day late.
Burlington-based Emterra has had staffing problems for a few years now. According to the St. Catharines Standard, 35 percent of its drivers failed post-incident drug and alcohol screenings in 2017, leading to mass terminations.
Despite this, the Region extended its contract with Emterra last year through March 2021 because of uncertainties around provincial recycling regulations in the wake of the new government being elected.
In an unexpected moment of candour, the company’s own Chief Operating Officer, Brad Muter, told Regional Council in March that Niagara extending the contract with Emterra for three years was not a good idea.
“Emterra agreed to extend the contract with an aging fleet and some other significant challenges,” Muter said, according to the Standard. “I joined the company seven months ago, but I have been in the industry for 40 years, and I can comfortably tell you I would have probably suggested a one-year extension—I would not have gone for three.”
Pelham’s Regional Councilor Diana Huson, like other area representatives, has received a consistent deluge of complaints from residents.
“I’ve been getting emails on a weekly basis. There’s clearly a problem,” she said, pointing out that Emterra’s other issue with aging trucks isn’t going to get resolved unless the company buys new equipment.
“Until we make a different decision, we’re going to have the same result … we can’t keep going on like this.”
Huson expects the matter to be a hot topic at this week’s Public Service meeting.