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Emails show mounting criticism over St. Pete’s curbside recycling

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Pete is just a couple of weeks away from implementation of the city’s long-awaited universal curbside recycling program. Last month residents began receiving the large, 95-gallon blue bins. That’s about the time excitement turned to trepidation.

Since bins starting hitting yards across the city, the mayor and City Council have been fielding email after email from residents angry about the program. Based on an analysis of 61 of those emails, it seemed the people who were the angriest were also the ones who had no idea the program was coming.

The most common complaint among residents was that the bins are ugly.

“Your ugly recycling bins are not what I want on my property,” wrote Debbie Smet.

“…not to mention how ugly our city will be when all you can see are our streets lined with giant electric blue trash bends (sic)!” wrote Bill Newsome in all caps. He followed that up with a “STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!”

And speaking of the color …

“Who decided on this glaring primary color,” asked Marisa Dalla Valle who arrived home from work one day to find a shiny new bin waiting in her yard.

Nearly every single one of the emails released by the city through a public records request contained some reference to aesthetically unappealing nature of St. Pete’s new face of recycling.

Another obvious trend in the emails was frustration among residents in neighborhoods with alley access. In places like Historic Kenwood, Old Northeast and Granada Terrace, residents deposit their trash into 300-gallon black bins permanently staged in the alley. Those bins are dumped by the city’s sanitation department twice a week.

But the blue recycling bins can’t be put in the alley ways. Instead, residents in those communities are being asked to take the blue bin to the curb on the bi-weekly pickup day assigned.

It seems a simple enough task, but it has residents in a flurry. Active leaders in both Historic Kenwood and Old Northeast emailed the city explaining why it’s a big deal. Simply put, homes with alley access aren’t designed to roll trash containers to the curbs.

Homes in those neighborhoods typically don’t have driveways. Many yards are fenced in. Some homes don’t have gates connecting the backyard to the front and street parking is prevalent.

“Having these blue bins sitting on our grass or flowers in the easement is not conducive to neighborhood aesthetics as we don’t have driveways in front of our homes,” wrote Bill Heyen of the Historic Kenwood neighborhood association.

The city has explained that alley pickup is not an option because access is too narrow for the trucks purchased specifically for recycling pickup. In a separate email responding to alley concerns Lisa Brekke, Mayor Rick Kriseman’s executive assistant, explained that even with smaller trucks, alley pickup could still be a challenge.

“Your solid waste containers are 300-gallon containers that serve 3-4 properties with twice per week collection and are strategically placed within the alleys to insure safety. Meaning, they must be placed where we will not run in to issues with overhead utilities, low lying branches, etc.,” she wrote.

Other city leaders are simply asking residents to be patient and give the program time to work itself out.

“I think the issue of a different type of truck for alleys in neighborhoods like HONNA/Granada Terrace and Historic Kenwood is worth exploring; however, we are still in the middle of the rollout and probably not quite at the point to make that assessment…just yet,” wrote City Council member Darden Rice. “I think we need to get a bigger and more complete picture of where the tweaks are so we know better where we can do a workaround or do something else.”

Despite the continued explanations and pleas for patience, the “hiccup,” as Rice referred to the alley debacle, is causing people to opt out of the program. More than a half dozen emails came in to the mayor’s office asking to have the blue bin picked up and removed from properties.

In one email a resident threatened, in all capital, bold, red letters, to just leave the bin in the middle of the road. Others demanded the bins be picked up right away after being told removal wasn’t an option until after July 1.

In the meantime, blue bins are dotting roadways all across the city. Some bins are already full of recyclables. Others are filled with trash. Some just sit empty, in the same spots where they were dropped off.

While there are plenty of people excited about implementation of curbside recycling – St. Pete is the last major city in the state to offer such a service – there are mounting calls for the program’s head. Of the emails analyzed more than 10 referenced either the cost or its mandatory assessment onto ratepayer’s utility bills.

“Who the H*LL decided this for me,” asked Donna Beland. She went on in her email to explain that while the $2.95 monthly fee that will be added to utility bills beginning next month may not be a big deal to most people, it’s a huge financial burden to her.

Another emailer pointed out that fee is an entire meal for her.

Several emails questioned whether it was fair to ask all residents to pay for the program even if they chose not to participate.

“Mayor, do we live in a Dictatorship? Where we are forced into things that we don’t want,” asked Dyana Watkins. “I do hope something changes with this. We don’t live in a communist country!”

The city council should have just said they WANT to RAISE OUR TAXES,” wrote Diana Fink. “Don’t disguise it by making us believe a service is being offer to people where it will not be used by many.”

She argued, much like several others, the program should be optional.

“Recycling is a great idea, but this is America and we should have been given the option to choose,” said Rick Brooks.

Multiple emailers complained they “didn’t vote” for curbside recycling and questioned whether St. Pete had ventured away from being a democracy.

The program was approved by City Council. The people voted for those members. It’s clear from multiple emails that not everyone understands how local government works.

Nevertheless, there were at least five calls for either the mayor or City Council members to be voted out of office.

“Get this stupid mayor out NOW!!! You have not finished hearing about this. You’re an idiot,” wrote Marisa Dalla Valle – the same woman who questioned why the bins were bright blue.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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