The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council met with a representative of its solid waste contractor Coastal Waste & Recycling on Tuesday, Aug. 2 and approved an emergency fuel surcharge due to high diesel fuel prices. The council also discussed the future of its recycling program and ways to streamline its vegetation waste removal process.
Attending the meeting was John Casagrande, senior vice president of business development for Coastal. While there was considerable discussion, the only action item was regarding the fuel surcharge.
An unexpected increase in diesel fuel costs is one of the contingencies listed in the town’s agreement with Coastal.
“This year, as you know, fuel costs have escalated tremendously,” Town Manager Francine Ramaglia said. “The solid waste contract includes a provision for an extraordinary rate increase for fuel. Mr. Casagrande, representing Coastal, sent us a notice of an increase.”
Casagrande’s initial request was for an increase of $2.67 per unit, per month for the upcoming year.
“After negotiations and other cost-saving measures, the increase was reduced to $1.53 per unit, per month,” Ramaglia said.
That rate will stay in place until prices go down, and at the end of the year, actual fuel costs will be identified, and the town would be reimbursed if the fuel costs were lower than expected, as tracked by the Lower Atlantic Diesel Retail Prices Index. The fuel surcharge will be in place from Oct. 1, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2023.
Before the fuel surcharge was approved unanimously, Mayor Robert Shorr, who was attending the meeting remotely, asked for additional details on how the reimbursement would work should fuel costs continue to trend downward, as they have over the past two months. “I want to be clear the basis for this increase,” he said.
While Casagrande was there, Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia brought up longstanding issues with the collection of vegetative waste.
Maniglia handed over an e-mail regarding a list of issues for Casagrande to resolve, explaining that the town’s most common complaint with Coastal is regarding vegetation pickup. She raised questions about how and when vegetation piles are tagged as too large.
For example, her own property has been tagged, even though the pile represents more than one property and is, therefore, entitled to be larger. Also, people have complained about vegetation not being picked up in a timely manner, and then getting tagged when it grows too big.
“The complaint I get is the lack of communication within Coastal,” Maniglia said. “I know some of our residents can be very vocal, but then there’s stuff like this, which is completely unnecessary.”
Casagrande said that issues always arise when new drivers take over a route.
“It’s education,” he said. “I understand it was a new driver on the vegetation route.”
Another issue, Casagrande said, is that the grappler truck that picks up large piles is run by a subcontractor, which might be part of the communication issues. He promised to look into it.
Vice Mayor Laura Danowski has also had her pile tagged. She said she calls Coastal, and it gets taken care of.
“I agree there is education that goes into new drivers,” she said. “Perhaps another route review with your subcontractor? It’s more about communication with management and stuff we will have to forever keep after.”
Maniglia also raised concerns of vegetation piles out in front of vacant land, where owners do not pay for the service.
“I want your guys to be diligent about people who are getting their vegetation picked up from vacant land,” she said. “If you don’t have a house on your property, you’re not paying for garbage, and you’re not paying for vegetation. But somehow it is getting picked up.”
Ramaglia said that may be an issue for code enforcement to look into.
“I think our ordinance may require our contractor to pick up what is in front of vacant lots,” she said, adding that she will look into it.
Danowski asked about how to report a sighting of a professional landscaping company dumping in front of a lot.
“That’s illegal,” Casagrande said. “That should be code enforcement and reported to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. If you get a license plate, that should be turned over right to the PBSO.”
Councilwoman Marianne Miles asked if cameras on trucks could solve part of the problem.
“The cameras would avoid situations of disagreements between residents and Coastal regarding whether a large pile is new or has been added to over time because it was not picked up,” she said.
Casagrande explained that while regular trucks have cameras, the clamshell trucks, which are the issue, do not. “It comes back to managing the subcontractor,” he said. “We will look into that.”
The topic then shifted to the future of the town’s recycling program.
Maniglia noted that there is no longer a functioning market for most recycled plastics, and that it is all getting incinerated at the Solid Waste Authority’s waste-to-energy plant.
“I get they are burning everything now,” she said. “What is going to happen with the recycling?”
Casagrande said that there have been discussions on the topic, and a change to recycling could save the town money.
“We have discussed ways to save money, and recycling is a way to go,” he said. “Florida statutes recognize that if you burn it for electricity, it’s a form of recycling. Cities around Florida that have the ability burn it, have eliminated their separate recycling collection to save money.”
He suggested that Loxahatchee Groves consider that change as well.
“This will eliminate two trucks coming down your roads, and the town will save $4.28 per month, per home, just by eliminating the recycling collection and recycling it through the waste-to-energy plant,” Casagrande said. “You’re not eliminating recycling; you’re changing the way you’re doing it.”
Shorr liked the way that could impact the community’s fragile road system. “If we can eliminate two trucks per week on our roads, that’s a big impact,” he said.
However, he was concerned that stopping the separate recycling could lead to another problem with bins being too small. “I personally fill up two plastic bins and one paper bin each week,” Shorr said. “Do I have the capacity to put that in my one bin? That’s a concern that I have heard raised by residents.”
Resident Nina Corning opposed the burning of plastics, since it is not good for the environment.
“It should be properly recycled. It’s not just plastics. There’s glass and metals in there,” she said. “Now we’re just going to throw it in and burn it at a non-molecular level? I’m just flabbergasted by this.”
Maniglia said that the best way to help the environment is for the people to stop buying single-use plastic bottles. “We all need to reevaluate recycling in this country,” she said.
Casagrande noted that 92 percent of the current recycling is burned for electricity, and the ash goes into a lined landfill. The county’s plant it overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency and faces strict federal regulations, he added. Meanwhile, there are also magnets that take the metals out before it is burned. Those items do have a market for recycling.
Ramaglia said that the net savings would be about $50,000 per year, and a centralized drop-off point could be set up for recycling materials for those who want to use it. “I hear a consensus to come back with changes to the contract and any changes to our ordinances,” she said.
Ramaglia added that residents should look for information being sent out regarding the town’s pre-storm hurricane sweep set for Aug. 20 and Aug. 27. There is no limit on vegetation pile sizes during the sweep. Learn more at www.loxahatcheegrovesfl.gov.