A Litter Night Music

Waste Management garbage truck number 258 makes its way to the gate of the company's Miami depot on NW Tenth Avenue, then heads loudly north toward Liberty City, hinged metal clanking, diesel engine groaning through the silent streets. Pulling into a parking lot at the Sugar Hill Apartments on NW 71st Street just past 14th Avenue, the driver grinds into reverse to maneuver -- "Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!" -- into position for a straight shot at the first Dumpster. With a hydraulic shriek, the truck's hoisting apparatus moves over the cab and grabs hold of the metal trash bin, then emits clangs, creaks, and thuds as the hoist lifts the full Dumpster over the cab, empties its smelly contents into the truck's belly, and pounds it back to the pavement outside Ardessa Howard's window.

Once a week, the noise works like an alarm clock for the 46-year-old school bus aide. "He wakes me up," says Howard, whose second-story flat overlooks one of her complex's six Dumpsters. "That's fine. When that truck doesn't come at 3:00 a.m., I say, 'I haven't heard the garbage man.'"

But not all of Howard's neighbors need to get to work at the ungodly hour of 4:30 a.m. "It sounds like they just drop the garbage can, the way they drop it so hard," gripes fellow Sugar Hill resident Yvonne Crawford. "It sounds like somebody hit a car. You get up and look out the window."

In creating the din, Waste Management is in flagrant violation of a City of Miami ordinance restricting private trash-collection firms to the hours of 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily (except in downtown Miami, which is predominantly nonresidential). Since this past October, officials from the city's Solid Waste Division have sent out five letters to private haulers, politely asking that they comply with the two-year-old law by confining their working hours to waking hours. Atlanta-based Browning-Ferris Industries got two letters; Combined Waste Service of Miami got one; and Lazaro's Recycling Systems, also of Miami, got two.

It seems the companies and their drivers can't resist the temptation of traffic-free streets and all-night working hours. "The haulers save time, start earlier, finish earlier," says Mayta Rodriguez, an assistant to City Manager Cesar Odio. Rodriguez handles complaints registered with the city's thirteen Neighborhood Enhancement Team (NET) offices.

Miamians who live in single-family homes experience little consternation when it comes to the working hours of their garbage haulers. The city's own employees -- 200 trained, unionized workers -- pick up residential trash, and Rodriguez says she's never received a complaint about dead-of-night garbage raids by city workers. But owners of apartment buildings with more than four units must contract with one of 23 licensed private hauling companies. That's not a bad deal for the city, which collects twelve percent of those revenues (in October the rate will increase to fifteen percent), plus a $175 permit fee, an annual $25-per-truck inspection fee, and a yearly permit-renewal charge of $50.

In other words, while the city will spend $16 million this fiscal year on salaries and equipment maintenance for its own fleet, it will rake in about $2 million from haulers for fiscal year 1995, according to the Ron Williams (an assistant city manager) and the city's finance director.

"It's more economical," Williams clarifies for the benefit of the accounting-impaired. "The City of Miami collected commercial garbage at a lower rate than private haulers and at a higher level of service. We got out of competing with private haulers and increased the franchise fee."

Light sleepers who live in apartments are paying the price.
Mayta Rodriguez says she and her colleagues have never kept close track of how many letters they've sent out cautioning haulers about wee-hours garbage collection, and although the city's ordinance stipulates that violation of "any of the terms and conditions of the permit shall be cause for revocation," no hauler has been dumped because of early-morning pickups.

But after a Shenandoah resident registered vehement complaints with his local NET administrator and the city manager's office, Rodriguez says, she decided to set up a meeting between the deputy director of the Solid Waste Division, NET administrators, and city legal staffers, in the hope of coming up with a stricter ordinance. Meantime, the clatter continues.

If you can believe your own eyes and ears, that is. When asked this past week why drivers made Dumpster runs under cover of early-morning darkness, Waste Management general manager Jorge Villasana said his company followed the rules "to a T. We will not intentionally break any Dade ordinance -- we're too big and we've been too long in the county," he swore.

He did, however, agree to check whether truck 258 serviced the Sugar Hill Apartments at 2:30 a.m. on July 23. "We started digging and found out that truck 258 was in violation of the ordinance," Villasana later reported. "Starting tomorrow, you'll never see another one of our trucks before 6:00 a.m.


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