Gettysburg officials sent Waste Management a formal allegation that the company is in breach of contract, to which company representatives plan to respond Monday during a borough council meeting.
“Five months of confusion, misinformation, and significant service delivery failures” allegedly occurred after the borough awarded a three-year contract to Waste Management in February, according to the “notice of contract breach” the borough sent to the company July 28.
The contract, effective April 1, includes waste hauling and recycling services for residents throughout the borough as well as for the borough government.
The borough council awarded the contract after determining Waste Management offered the “lowest responsive and responsible bid,” which by state law must be accepted, according to the notice.
The borough’s experience since the award “raises serious questions as to whether Waste Management is in fact” the lowest “responsive and responsible bidder,” according to the notice.
If Waste Management does not respond to the borough’s satisfaction, the municipality could “assess penalties,” take legal action, or “terminate this contract” and claim “liquidated damages, or remediation, or abatement,” according to the notice.
The alleged failures have caused “extreme inconveniences to borough residents and a degradation in quality-of-life issues” that extend beyond simple refuse collection shortfalls, but also affect the aesthetic charm and appeal of a community whose economic vitality is primarily based on a tourism economy, with multiple reports from visitors commenting on the refuse piling up in the borough, according to the notice.
The meeting is to begin at 7 p.m. in the borough hall, 59 E. High St.
Hauler blames virus
Waste Management of Pennsylvania (WMPA) “respectfully disagrees that it is in breach of the contract, or is not a responsive and responsible bidder,” according to a letter sent to the borough Tuesday by Jeffrey Viola, Waste Management’s assistant general counsel for the eastern U.S.
The company “has addressed and continues to address all issues” in the borough’s notice, and “we believe overall contract performance is now much improved and getting better,” Viola wrote.
“WMPA believes some of the more material issues noted in the borough’s July 28 letter were not caused by WMPA and were beyond its control,” he wrote.
“Some of the unavoidable bumps in the road experienced during the start of the Gettysburg contract” resulted from continuing industry-wide “challenges” posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Viola wrote.
Residential curbside collections have greatly increased as many people have shifted to remote or hybrid work, requiring WMPA, like other solid waste vendors, to “completely rethink its vehicle, equipment, and staffing needs,” he wrote.
The pandemic is also “directly responsible for several other lingering challenges, including the much-publicized supply chain delays” that affected “deliver of new vehicles and containers,” Viola wrote.
Virus quarantines have resulted in “rolling driver shortages,” and competition from Amazon and other home delivery companies has added to “the difficulty to attract hire, train, and deploy” qualified commercial drivers, he wrote.
Viola’s letter responds to specific allegations in the borough’s notice.
The notice alleges “failure to supply receptacles in a timely or complete manner.”
Viola claims “the bid specifications did not establish any estimate of the number of containers that might be requested by Gettysburg residents” or set deadlines, that “WMPA has been delivering containers as promptly as conditions will allow,” and that WMPA’s Greencastle hauling district has “an ample supply of containers” available at residents’ request.
The borough claims the company has provided “poor and incomplete communication,” such as customer service representatives allegedly having “given rate payers misinformation.”
WMPA sent residents an introductory announcement and a follow-up several weeks later, and has “seen the number of complaints diminish over the past few weeks,” according to Viola’s letter.
“Persistent missed pickups” have affected residential users and public trash receptacles, while “incorrect invoices” were sent to customers, the borough’s notice claims. For example, some customers were “billed for full service when only wanting to use per bag service,” the notice alleges.
Viola’s letter claims “the initial customer list” for the borough’s more than 1,200 residences “included a number of mistakes and was incomplete.” WMPA has worked “to correct the list both from an operational and billing perspective, which has allowed us to drastically reduce the number of misses, and issue correct invoices.”
The notice accuses Waste Management of “failure to collect refuse within parameters of the municipality’s noise ordinance.”
“WMPA acknowledges 7 a.m. is the earliest allowed time of service and will make the proper routing adjustments,” and will “continue to analyze how best to shift available drivers from surrounding districts in central Pennsylvania to help backfill any future driver shortage in the borough,” Viola wrote.
Waste Management allegedly failed to provide on-street “Big Belly” trash compactors “in a timely and satisfactory manner,” according to the borough’s notice.
“WMPA placed the purchase order for the units the day the executed contract was received,” but “was informed that delivery would take a minimum of 14 weeks” because of “supply chain issues,” Viola wrote. “Used Big Bellys in good working order were provided” and new ones will be installed “as soon as they are delivered,” he wrote.
“WMPA representatives will be in attendance” at the Aug. 8 meeting, Viola wrote.
‘Worth getting sued’
After Waste Management took over trash and recycling collection, borough officials received a wave of complaints, leading to creation of an online form residents could use to report problems. The council’s attorney, Harold Eastman, said in April that information gathered via the form could affect future contracts by providing evidence relevant to a bidder’s responsibility.
Under the contract, the base rate for residents rose from the previous $18.19 per month to $22.55 per month, according to Borough Manager Charles Gable. Former provider Waste Connections’ bid was $24.15 for the new three-year contract, which includes an option to renew for a fourth, according to Gable.
In June, council President Wesley Heyser said the borough “may have to rebid the contract if we choose to tell Waste Management that they have not been acting sufficiently,” he said.
“It’s probably a coin-flip if we get sued, but this is worth getting sued over because I think that we will prevail, unless magically they fix everything in the next, you know, one or two weeks, which would also be wonderful,” Heyser said in June.
Last month, Heyser claimed he had photographic evidence that Waste Management had not emptied street containers daily as specified in the contract.