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Dumpster Disarray: Confusion Piles as Residents Look For Answers

A commercial grade dumpster collecting rust in Nome, Alaska. Sarah Swartz photo.

May 8, 2024

Sarah Swartz, News Reporter

Uncollected trash due to inclement weather this past winter left many residents of Nome feeling frustrated. As trash began to accumulate residents sent emails, made calls, and posted on Facebook to ask for help. For many, those calls for help were left unanswered.

The lack of communication was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to a growing sense of dissatisfaction within the community. Inadequate supplies of trash bins, overflowing dumpsters, and broken garbage cans were just a few of the issues. Disputes over the proper placement of garbage cans also confused residents, resulting in trash that remained curbside for weeks or even months. As calls for accountability grew louder, the question of who was actually responsible for what loomed.

Tossing Out The Confusion

Garbage collection in Nome is facilitated through a variety of entities, each with their own roles, responsibilities, and challenges. Alaska Waste is at the center of the web and serves as the City of Nome’s waste management provider. The city’s energy company, Nome Joint Utility System (NJUS), handles billing for services. 

This relationship is a consequence of a city ordinance that requires “every inhabited dwelling within the city boundaries… shall be jointly and severally responsible to subscribe for refuse collection services for such inhabited dwelling.” It was deemed that NJUS was the appropriate entity to facilitate payments as they already bill dwellings for other services such as electricity.

Overseeing the entire web is the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA), a state-operated agency that regulates and certifies public utility companies. The commission ensures that waste management operations “provide safe and adequate services at just and reasonable rates, terms, and conditions.” The RCA may be contacted to file formal complaints against public utility companies. 

Truckin’ Forward

Alaska Waste hopes to address some of the concerns raised by residents this summer. As complaints mounted, Alaska Waste’s Operations Manager Ron Stevens visited Nome in late April to meet with City of Nome and NJUS officials. The meeting highlighted the ways Nome differs from other communities Alaska Waste serves, such as Anchorage where the company is headquartered. 

“Most companies make the customer wait seven days. It’s different here, your guys’ weather it’s more extreme, your tipper may disappear or the garbage will go everywhere. So we’ve dedicated ourselves to do our best to do it the next day within 24 hours,” Stevens said.

Several waves of windy and snowy conditions throughout the winter damaged or broke trash bins, making them inoperable until a replacement can be dropped off. According to Stevens, those replacements will be on two barge shipments carrying 64 and 96 gallon bins scheduled for the summer. Alaska Waste also plans on delivering commercial-grade dumpsters and a new garbage truck on the first available barge.

While waiting for a new trash bin can be an inconvenience, residents like Pat Booth noticed “business as usual” after receiving a replacement for her damaged can last year.

“Once I got my new can delivered, I haven’t had any problems with my trash service,” Booth said.

Following a string of social media posts criticizing Alaska Waste employees in Nome, Stevens urges residents to contact Alaska Waste’s Wasilla office at 907-376-2158 for help so local employees can focus on doing their job. This includes questions about pickup schedules and unexpected items on bills such as extra bag fees. 

“We have a crew of drivers and helpers up here that their job is to drive the truck and it’s a super dangerous job out there. And I’d rather them focus on that. Let me focus on the phone call side. Just to keep one less thing out of their hands that they have to deal with being out there on the road.” Stevens said.

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