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Cottage Grove council: Three trash haulers sufficient for the city

Are three trash haulers enough to rid Cottage Grove of its waste?

Four out of five city council members think so. The prospect of modifying the city’s trash hauling services has been a topic of debate throughout the years, but council member Derrick Lehrke said it is worth yet another look.

The council last month discussed whether to allow more haulers after Inver Grove Heights-based Troje’s Trash & Recycling was denied entry into Cottage Grove with the city citing its three-hauler limit.

Cottage Grove holds contracts with Tennis Sanitation, Tennis Brothers Sanitation and Waste Management, three separate haulers from a legal standpoint.

But Lehrke argues the city really only has two independent haulers — Waste Management and the Tennis operation.

In 2004, Tennis Brothers Sanitation was awarded a contract with the city of Cottage Grove, joining Tennis Sanitation and Waste Management as the third hauler.

Tennis Brothers Sanitation and Tennis Sanitation are owned by the same brothers, Greg and Willie Tennis, drive the same garbage haulers and are listed under one name — Tennis Sanitation — on the city’s website.

“Some keep misleading the issue by saying there are three (haulers) even though we know two companies do not compete with each other,” Lehrke said in an email.

During the application process eight years ago, the brothers appealed to the Cottage Grove Public Works Department and said separate expenses and revenue books and liability insurance set the two apart. Also, Tennis Brothers Sanitation subcontracts its recycling work to Tennis Sanitation.

Another differentiating characteristic, Mayor Myron Bailey explained, is that “Tennis Brothers (Sanitation) deals with the rural market area while Tennis Sanitation covers the main city portion of the streets.”

Tennis Sanitation and Troje’s did not return calls for comment.

Limiting haulers to slow road deterioration

Several years ago a previous City Council adopted an ordinance limiting the number of haulers allowable in an attempt, Bailey said, to regulate the number of trucks on the street and prevent unnecessary wear and tear on roads.

During the workshop last month, the conversation turned to pavement management. In October, the Public Works Department took five residential traffic counts in random locations in Cottage Grove to get a better understanding of how garbage, recycling and yard waste trucks impact residential roads.

The report provided to the council showed car counts for one day ranged on average between 102 and 229 vehicles, approximately 6,000 car trips per week, the report stated. Per Minnesota Department of Transportation estimates, one garbage truck equals 1,000 vehicle trips.

The Public Works staff used the MnDOT formula and added in local estimates to conclude that garbage, recycling and yard waste trucks contribute to 85 percent of road wear.

The results, Bailey said, were enough to convince him to vote against adding more haulers.

“Look at what we went through with the (latest) pavement management program,” Bailey said, referring to the opposition generated by the most recent city street improvement project. “If there is a way that we can lessen the impact on our infrastructure and reduce the cost of redoing roads, I’m more than happy to do that.”

If the city decided to add a fourth hauler, according to the Public Works’ study, it is anticipated to “increase the impact on residential roads by 43 percent,” adding the equivalent of approximately 3,000 car trips per day.

The report went on to say that while expanding haulers may result in more competitive rates, it may not be worth the long-term maintenance costs that could be associated with added trucks.

Hauling fees vary

Organized and open collection of trash have been options the city of Cottage Grove has entertained over the years in an effort to get the best pricing. With surrounding cities such as Woodbury contracting with 12 haulers and Newport contracting with six, Lehrke said limiting the number of haulers could be driving up prices in Cottage Grove.

“I have been trying to get answers and talk about this for quite some time,” he said in an email. “There is one other city close to use in price, every other city is quite a bit less. Some because there is competition, others because the city contracted with one hauler. But we are just doing nothing? (And) paying the most.”

According to recent figures, 9,073 Cottage Grove residents contract with the three active trash haulers — Tennis Sanitation, Tennis Brothers Sanitation and Waste Management. Tennis Sanitation, which serves the urban part of the city, has 8,354 active accounts; Tennis Brothers Sanitation, which serves rural areas of the city, has just 237 active accounts; and Waste Management has 482 active accounts. The Tennis contracts hold 95 percent of accounts.

Lehrke said that Cottage Grove pays “the highest garbage bill of nearly every other city.”

Recent figures for Tennis Sanitation show an average monthly bill between $16.40 and $22.23 in Cottage Grove, St. Paul Park and Newport, depending on the size of the trash receptacle.

Waste Management reported an average monthly bill of $23.29 to $31.07 in all three cities.

And Troje’s, which serves Newport and St. Paul Park, among others, reported an average monthly bill of $14.84 to $21.63.

While prices in south Washington County cities are comparable, prices in cities such as Hastings and Woodbury vary.

Hastings chose Tennis Sanitation as its single hauler in January 2013, and Woodbury has open collection, currently contracting with 12 haulers.

Depending on the size of the trash receptacle, Tennis Sanitation charges Woodbury residents an average monthly bill between $15 and $19.42, several dollars cheaper than in Cottage Grove. Hastings, which contracts solely with Tennis, pays significantly less, between $11.40 and $14.91 monthly.

Waste Management bills Woodbury residents between $32.60 and $34.44 a month, nearly $10 more than Cottage Grove. Hastings residents pay a monthly average between $25.57 and $27.02.

Bailey said while he understands that shopping trash haulers might result in a lower or more comparable price to other cities in the east metro, fixing what isn’t broken doesn’t make sense.

“We decided to leave it as it is because (the majority of the council) wasn’t interested in expanding because of the wear and tear on the roads,” he said. “I have not had one citizen contact me in concern. I don’t think there is an issue out there.”