- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

D.C. residents whose trash has been piling up in the back alleys of their homes during the past two weeks will get the reprieve they've been looking for this week, city Department of Public Works officials said yesterday.
Trash pickup has been stalled since mid-February because of the recent snowstorms, and, as a result, some residents and D.C. Council members are getting fed up with the repeated delays, excuses and confusing directives from city officials about where to put the trash.
Two weeks, they argue, is too long to wait.
"Some of our trash cans out here are full," said M. Jon Vondracek, 64, who lives in the 2900 block of 38th Street in Cathedral Heights in Northwest. "Let's just say, 'The cup has runneth over.' We haven't seen a trash truck since the middle of last month. Our mayor has promised basic efficiency, and all we've gotten is a constant drumbeat of broken promises."
Council members agreed.
"Our residents have had enough excuses. Now it's time to pick up their trash," said council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairman of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment.
D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said he received complaints yesterday morning from residents living in the Takoma Park, 16th Street Heights and Brightwood neighborhoods whose trash also hasn't been picked up for two weeks.
"DPW is doing a good job of getting out there when the complaints come from me," Mr. Fenty said. "But there is no question there is a backlog."
Part of the problem is that the city workers who drive the trash pickup routes are the same people who plowed snow 12 hours a day throughout the District for the past two weeks, public works officials said.
"We are catching up on any missed trash day by day. Collection on Monday schedules will be collected today if it hasn't been already," public works spokeswoman Mary Myers said. "Residents should try to be patient a little while longer and should start seeing the trash disappear."
Some D.C. residents have had no problems with their trash pickup and praised the agency for the quick service.
Allison Stevens, an Adams Morgan resident, has no complaints about her trash pickup from the alley behind her town house. "I've been perfectly satisfied so far this year, even though we have had lots of snow," said Miss Stevens, 29. "They seem to be pretty much on top of it all."
Southeast resident Alfred Thomas said he saw that the lids of the trash bins were propped open by large loads of trash at some points during the past two weeks.
"I could see that the trash piled up sometimes because the storm made [the trash collectors] late, but it was never too bad," said Mr. Thomas, 45.
Trash pickup in several neighborhoods in Maryland and Northern Virginia was delayed by one or two days until trash collectors were able to get to the neighborhood streets.
After a series of heavy snowstorms, trash cleanup is typically put on the back burner so crews can make streets safe and passable for motorists.
But trash collection has always been a major headache, particularly for public works, in the District.
The District was pummeled with complaints of shoddy trucks, understaffed fleets and incompetence after residents didn't have their trash picked up for several weeks after the snowstorms of 1996 and 2000.
During the 1996 snowstorm, the department sent a directive to city residents, asking them to put trash in dark plastic bags and move them from the back alleys to the curbs in front of their homes.
Department officials sent a similar directive to residents Wednesday.
"DPW sanitation workers are out in force, working to catch up on trash collection. … Those who have Thursday and Friday collection are asked to put trash at curbside," stated a public works directive that was sent to residents.
Most of the residents followed the instructions. But some said no one came, and others became confused when they saw crews searching for the refuse in the back alleys.
Some residents, such as Mr. Vondracek, didn't receive the directive and have kept their trash in the alleys behind their homes. "I've never seen it quite this bad, and I've lived here for thirty" years, he said.
Mr. Vondracek said his neighbors have come up with their own "trash-dispersal system." The residents along 38th Street have begun sharing one another's trash cans so the trash wouldn't be left in the alleys in plastic bags.
Recycling pickup is also a problem.
Council members said Department of Public Works officials have to be honest about what residents can expect and leave out what they call ambiguous removal policy changes.
During the past two weeks, Montgomery County Public Works also had some troubles picking up trash in some sections of Silver Spring where trash collectors couldn't get through because of icy snow-covered sidewalks, said Bonnie Ayers, a spokeswoman for county public works.
"But it is the law in Montgomery County that residents are responsible for clearing sidewalks in front of their homes within 24 hours of the storm," she said.
Mrs. Ayers said the department has received several complaints with the county's trash-removal plan from some residents who live in the part of the county where private contractors, not county workers, pick up the trash.
"We did stop recycling a couple days because we used those crews to handle the backlog of trash," she said. But she said her office has received few complaints about trash and only one about recycling pickups.
Mary Shaffrey, Matt Cella and Patrick Badgley contributed to this report.

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