After a sometimes tumultuous five-year relationship, the Board of County Commissioners and Waste Pro are destined for an increasingly acrimonious divorce.
Waste Pro, the county’s former solid waste hauler until June 1 and BCC Waste Solutions, deemed the low bidder, assumed the county’s business, filed suit in Circuit Court last week.
The company seeks unspecified monetary damages under claims of “contracts and indebtedness.”
County attorney Jeremy Novak characterized the 44-page complaint which outlines seven allegations of breach of contract or unresolved debt on the part of the county, as “frivolous.”
And commissioners agreed with Novak’s strategy of folding several notices of breach of contract filed by the county against the company over the prior two or three years into a counterclaim.
“They have not completed the contract per the language of the contract,” Novak said.
The separation from Waste Pro has been a rocky one.
There are still Waste Pro containers throughout the county nearly a month after the contract with the county ended and the company was to have removed all containers.
County Administrator Michael Hammond said Public Works crews had worked the past week removing containers, some of them which had not been emptied in some time, from the tourist corridor.
Prior to June 1, there was a steady diet of routes missed or dropped and uncertainty among residents in some areas as what day their trash would be picked up.
There were frequent complaints about trucks leaking trash and/or transmission or steering fluid and commercial containers not being dumped in a timely fashion.
“All we every asked from the beginning was to give the people good service,” said Commissioner Ward McDaniel.
“We asked them and we asked them and they just turned an ear to us.”
The city of Port St. Joe has long dealt with similar issues and is nearing the October end of its five-year contract with Waste Pro.
Though city commissioners have taken no formal action, they have had public discussions pertaining to opting out of the contract early to avoid some of the pain the county has suffered.
From the outset the contract with Waste Pro was somewhat controversial because it ultimately included the elimination of roadside yard debris in unincorporated areas.
And the end of the contract term has brought additional issues, as ownership of the transfer station at Five Points became a sticking point.
The county ultimately decided it could not make a deal on the transfer station, which Waste Pro has dismantled including removing the scales.
The BOCC decided Tuesday to move ahead on constructing a county-owned transfer station and the transfer station could become a component of the litigation.
Public Works director Mark Cothran said BCC is operating out of Five Points and residents wishing to use the landfill should take the road opposite the paved road going to the transfer station.
“The next couple of months may be a little bumpy, but we’ll get there,” Cothran said.
Jim McKnight, executive director of the county Economic Development Coalition, provided the BOCC an update on the business sector.
To date, 90 percent of businesses operating at the time of Hurricane Michael have re-opened their doors.
Of the remaining 10 percent, roughly half would not be coming back, McKnight said, while the other 5 percent were anywhere from the end of the year to two years away from re-opening.
“The main problem is getting people to go to work,” McKnight said, echoing a private sector refrain about the lack of a workforce post-storm.
The lack of a workforce is also an issue with Department of Corrections, with the two local prisons holding 215 vacant positions.
Inmates should begin returning on a “limited basis” to the main facility north of Wewahitchka next week.
The hope is that the prisoners would be populating the annex in Howard Creek by the end of the year, though significant rebuilding work continues there.
The goal is to bring the prison population in the county back up before the 2020 census.
The institutional portion of the census will be undertaken in March next year and with the prison previously housing some 20 percent of the county’s official population, re-opening the prisons is a priority for county officials.
“We understand the situation and we will get the population up as fast as we can,” said Assistant Warden Terry Lolley.