February 6, 2012

Ocracoke’s new trash system is working well so
far, but many worry about tourist season


The first month of the new trash collection system on Ocracoke has been relatively smooth, but many still have a wait-and-see attitude.

The dump behind the Hyde County Sheriff’s Office has daily traffic to rival the post office next door.

It is a place to take your trash and recyclables as well as visit with friends, view an occasional art exhibit, and even look for treasures among others’ discards.

And while site workers say the traffic has been manageable in January, some residents fear traffic into the site might back up onto Highway 12 come summer.

The Hyde County commissioners made the decision last May to discontinue curbside trash pickup as of Dec. 31 and require all trash to be taken to one of six “convenience sites.”

The site on Ocracoke, still known as the dump, is one of the six.

Throughout the summer and fall, county workers reorganized and set up a system for trash and recyclables, which is paid for by an increase in property taxes on all property owners in the county.

Clint Berry, county public works director, had reported when he proposed this new system that trash costs tacked on as an increase in property taxes of up to 8 cents could actually be lower for many property owners than the previous $35 monthly fee.

However, that savings would probably be lost to residents with high property values, as well as to those rental property owners who have to pay to have their trash privately hauled.

The new system has been in place since Jan. 1, and the site is open every day of the week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

This is the first time the dump has been open on weekends in the winter.

Among the containers at Ocracoke are two compactors for household trash, one for electronics (TVs, computers, etc.), one for cardboard, one for recyclables (co-mingled glass, aluminum, newspaper and non-glossy food cardboard boxes), one for yard debris, one for large items, such as sofas.  More containers are arriving, one for white goods (appliances) and one for metal and tires.

The plan is for all of the compactors to be off the ground and most all of the debris, some of which currently is on the ground, such as sofas, to be placed in containers. 

William Nathan Spencer, one of the full-time site attendants, wishes the site had more room, noting that sites on the mainland are much larger, while Ocracoke generates more trash.

“Right now, it takes about four days for the locals to fill one of the household trash compactors,” he said.

And he’s a bit concerned about what will happen come the spring and summer when the amount of trash and recycling will dramatically increase, requiring the containers to be emptied more frequently. 

Making sure there will be enough open compactor space will be a new managerial challenge for the county and David’s Trash Service, which has the hauling contract.

Come the summer, containers may have to be hauled up to five times a week, Spencer said.  That is where the planning will come in, since the system is new to workers and users alike.

Entrance to the site is at the north end of the Sheriff’s Office.  After people dispose of their items, they drive around to the exit near the Post Office.

Wood chipping day is Wednesdays, noted Bill Hocutt, the other full-time attendant.

Spencer is glad the new system has begun now so that residents get used to it before the tourist season begins.

Tourists, he said, may be OK with this system as many of them have similar trash and recycling systems where they come from.

Rental property managers are gearing up for the change.

Both Blue Heron and Ocracoke Island Realty rental agencies are working with their current private haulers to pick up trash from rental houses.

Terry Lukefahr, maintenance coordinator for Ocracoke Island Realty, said homeowners who want the agency to pick up the trash will be charged from $6 to $10, depending on each house’s maximum occupancy, for the service. They also have names of other local haulers if homeowners want to hire someone themselves.

There’s also a $6 fee for taking recycling if they have a container, she said.  Fortunately, she said, a lot of renters take their recycling on their own to the dump.

Although she hasn’t had too much feedback from homeowners, “No one is expecting renters to take their own trash to the dump,” she said.

But she is worried about traffic there.

“I think it’s going to be a big mess,” she said about the weekends.

Currently, the two household containers are at the entrance at the north end of the site.  While both containers are at the entrance, only one gate (to one container) will be open at a time.

“If only one is open during the weekend, I’ve been thinking that no way will that be enough,” she said.

Another resident, Fred Westervelt, echoed her remarks.

“I don’t see how they’re going to handle the traffic in the summer,” he said. “There’s very little room for maneuvering vehicles. But, it may work and we’ll all have to be patient.”

Right now, though, his wife Ernie said, they have not had to wait long to dispose of their trash.

“But then again, there’s nobody here,” she said.

Nonetheless, Lukefahr is grateful that the county gave the island time to adjust to the new system, unlike the short-lived pay-as-you-throw system that was instituted in 2009 in the midst of the tourist season.

As with that system, many bucked and threw their trash into others’ cans.

“We might find locals again putting trash in rental cans,” she said.

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