Hawkins responds to complaints about new hoppers at trash convenience centers

Jeff Bobo • Jul 12, 2019 at 5:30 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Some Hawkins County commissioners have been getting an earful from constituents recently about new hoppers attached to convenience center trash compactors where residents dispose of their garbage.

On Wednesday, members of the commission’s Solid Waste Committee (SWC) passed on some of that grief to solid waste director John Lilley, who installed the hoppers without consulting the panel.

Some convenience center patrons were reportedly complaining that they struggled to lift their garbage high enough to get it over the new hoppers and down into the compactor.

Commissioner Danny Alvis told the SWC he spent time at the Carters Valley convenience center Wednesday morning and spoke to 15 people who were dumping their trash. Only one of those 15 said they didn’t have a problem with the new hoppers, Alvis said.

“The others said it needed to be removed,” Alvis said. “They made it more physically demanding to empty their trash. It’s a safety hazard sticking out — the traffic going by.”   

Lilley, who was hired in December, was aware that the SWC had already voted in November against attaching hoppers — or what the panel calls “bat wings” — to the convenience center compactors.

At the time, the hoppers being considered by the committee would have cost a total of $30,000 for all nine convenience centers.

Lilley told the committee Wednesday he thought it was a financial decision not to purchase the hoppers, and when he found a cheaper alternative for them he moved forward.

The new hoppers cost $467 each, and Lilley said it will cost about $700 total to remove them.

Lilley told the committee he felt the hoppers are a safety feature to bring the compactors into compliance with OSHA regulations.

The wings add a total of 84 inches in height plus width and are intended to keep body parts out of the compactor when it’s operating.

“Currently, when the operators are pushing the button, the compactor is moving,” Lilley said. “It's not a dead-man switch or a push-to-hold or a push-to run-button. That’s not the way it’s set up.

“I saw an issue where we’re not in compliance, and if somebody gets hurt, the county is going to be writing the big check. As I told the mayor, I didn’t intend to ruffle any feathers. I thought I came up with a good solution at one-sixth the cost of the $30,000 hoppers that would allow us to operate the compactors the way they’re set up now.”

Commissioner Rick Brewer said he received a call from a “little old lady” who complained that she was unable to sling her garbage up over the new hoppers at the Stanley Valley convenience center.

Brewer added, “The convenience centers is one of the very few things that the taxpayers can see that they’re getting for their money. We need to try, as a committee, to make them as efficient and the best that we can for our taxpayers.”

Lilley told commissioners he understands now he should have consulted the committee and Mayor Jim Lee before proceeding with the hopper installation.

The SWC voted 5-0 to remove the hoppers. The committee also voted 5-0 to make sure the “push-and-hold” compactor buttons are OSHA-compliant.

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