On Monday, in light of advice from Public Health and local medical professionals regarding social distancing, we made the decision to limit opportunities for public gathering in municipal spaces. This included the landfill. The landfill is a known area for socializing, including with the municipal landfill attendant. The closure of the landfill was intended to be temporary, while we evaluated how best to protect the public and staff in that space. This could have been communicated more clearly had we taken more time to craft the message - we felt giving people enough notice prior to the regularly-scheduled opening (i.e., at least 24 hours) was important enough to rush the message.
The landfill is a hot-button issue for people during good times, so it is not unexpected that an emergency closure on short-notice is not popular. We are encouraging the people who call our office to keep the issue in perspective. We're talking about weighing the convenience of waste disposal with the protection of our vulnerable citizens from COVID-19. Of course, we recognize that waste disposal is an essential service with its own impact on public health. However, temperatures are still conducive to temporary waste storage during this reduced service window, for the time being.
It is not as simple as 'the attendant can just stay in the truck'. We really wish it was. The compacter requires periodic operation. Residents expect the attendant to assist with their waste, even though the attendant is directed not to. There is intense pressure from the public on the attendant to waiver from the official rules – the landfill attendant position is a very vulnerable one. People require direction on where to put their various items. People want to hang around and socialize (based on conversations with members of the public even today, some of our residents are still not grasping the seriousness of this situation), and more of our residents return from a winter away down south every day. There are no facilities available at the landfill for the attendant or the public to wash their hands. We have a very lean staff complement – there are no 'back ups' to continue providing essential municipal services if we become ill or are required to isolate. We are being told by local, provincial, federal and international authorities to be prepared for a marathon, not a sprint. Winter also isn't over, as today is demonstrating. We need our staff to stay well so they can continue to provide essential services. Offers from the public and council to help staff the landfill are an incredibly thoughtful and inspiring gesture, but we still have the same obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act as in 'normal' times.
We are using March 26th as a beta test to tweak measures so that we are able to provide at least once-per-week service at the landfill. In all likelihood, this will be during a weeknight evening or a weekend day. We expect to post more information on this shortly. Ensuring 'one-at-a-time' disposal and social distancing is going to require a redeployment of staff and cooperation of each and every one of our residents. With respect to the criticism being raised in social media that having everyone show up during a one-hour period is more likely to spread the virus: people will only be getting out of their vehicles, one at a time, to deposit their waste in the compactor and recycling in the bins. We will have staff directing vehicles to ensure efficiency.
We know this is inconvenient. It's hard. We are working with our local businesses to ensure that waste is not an additional stressor to their businesses right now. This may not be the last tough decision we have to make before this is over as we balance essential service delivery and protection of public health. Our decisions may not always be popular, but please know that they will be based on the best available information and a commitment to serving the best interests of our community. All we can do is keep communicating and embrace flexibility and creative problem-solving. Office staff are available during our regular business hours to answer any questions or address any concerns you may have. Please call or email us: http://billingstwp.ca/administration/staff/
Thanks for everything you're all doing, particularly the health sector workers, truck drivers, delivery persons, retail workers and small business owners we so clearly depend on and take for granted when all is working well.