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Commission trashes plan for Congress Avenue waste cans

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 by Austin Monitor

Plans by the Solid Waste Services Department to replace more than 50 trash cans along Congress Avenue ran into a road block at the Historic Landmark Commission Monday night. While the Department is proposing to replace the aging cans with a newer, more efficient design, most Commissioners found the appearance of the new cans to be a poor fit with the historic street. The cans are within the Congress Avenue Historic District, although there are no specific design guidelines for trash cans within the district.


The department is proposing to use the new standard cans approved for use as part of the Great Streets Program, some of which have already been placed in front of buildings along Congress participating in the Great Streets Program. “It’s already been installed on Second Street, it’s already been installed on Sixth Street,” said Solid Waste Services Assistant Director Don Berkner. “This would be making the ones on Congress consistent with that, except we would retain the same dark green color you have on the existing Congress Street cans.”


But that standardized design failed to find favor with most of the Commission. “Personally, I do not like your new design,” said Commissioner Joe Arriaga. “Not for Congress Avenue. It does not match all the signage we just installed. I think Congress Avenue is special.”


He urged the department to consider modifying the existing cans to solve the problems outlined by Berkner. The cans were originally designed with removable lids, which have become valuable as scrap metal and are frequently stolen. Berkner also said the old design requires workers with SWS to lift the can vertically to remove trash. “That’s not a very safe way to handle it. The current design is to have a door on the side,” Berkner said. “It’s a lot safer for my personnel to handle.”


A representative from the Downtown Austin Alliance told the Commission the business group supported installing new trash cans downtown. After 15 years, “I believe these cans have far surpassed their usable life-span,” said Bill Brice, program director for security and maintenance for the DAA. “We believe Congress Avenue ought to be the most beautiful street in the state, and with 54 cans in the type of disrepair these are, it’s really an eyesore. The cans have broken spindles, they are chipped. I believe they are beyond repair.”


But Commissioner Arriaga disagreed. “I’m sure there are a lot of people who can retrofit, redesign this,” he said. “I think it’s a very simple thing to solve.”


Berman attempted to press the Commission to approve the design of the new cans, saying the department needed to replace the existing receptacles as soon as possible. As for re-designing and repairing the existing trash cans, his conclusion was that “I don’t believe it’s going to be simple, and I think it’s going to be quite costly. I don’t think the Solid Waste Services Department feels that’s an appropriate expenditure for the department. Our job is emptying the cans and servicing the cans, and we have volunteered to take on the payment for replacing the cans for the functionality of our department and safety of our personnel. We’re not at all proposing that we take on the task of retrofitting those cans.”


Still, the Commission postponed any action on the request to approve the design of the new cans until its next meeting in May. Commissioners are seeking additional information, including cost data, about the project.

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