Matt Jackson puts insulation Thursday into the new building next to the scale house at the Hatch Hill landfill in Augusta. Some procedures and fees are being changed temporarily at Hatch Hill because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Landfill users now must check-in at the new building as they enter the facility and pay at the scale house.

Carla Heisten of Chelsea has a growing collection of recyclables — cardboard, paper and plastic — that she has carefully set aside for the past three months or so.

But now she cannot get rid of it because the Hatch Hill landfill in Augusta has stopped taking recyclables as part of changes meant to reduce the potential for exposure to the coronavirus.

Heisten and other users of the landfill said people still need to be able to recycle. They also said new flat fees charged at the landfill, which officials said are meant to discourage people from bringing small loads of trash, make getting rid of things more costly at a time when many people are out of work and struggling financially.

“The choice to eliminate (recycling) and to boost their prices is just a horrible way to ‘help’ the public in this difficult time, by making things even more difficult and expensive for us,” said Heisten, who is self-employed and has had no work since March 15.

She also has not received unemployment compensation or other government assistance and has yet to receive her federal stimulus check because the IRS does not have her checking account information.

Heisten said she worries some who are put off by the increased cost and new restrictions at Hatch Hill might start dumping trash on roadsides or in the woods. Recently, she said, there was a bag of trash in a ditch beside her house. The contents of that bag have since spread all over the road.

Heisten wonders if the bag was left by someone who did not want to pay the flat fee now charged at Hatch Hill, although she acknowledged the bag might have fallen from someone’s vehicle.

“Making it harder to access a landfill just doesn’t make it easier for people who are living on the edge,” she said.

Stacey Tower of Whitefield said a recent trip to dispose of trash at Hatch Hill, which would have normally cost about $4, ran $15. In addition, he could only dispose of his trash, not recyclables or other items usually accepted there, including an old television he ended up bringing back home.

Tower said increasing prices while cutting back on services makes no sense.

He said while he was waiting in line to get into the facility, he saw a few pickup trucks that were loaded with items to be dropped off. Those trucks ended up leaving without dropping off anything.

Tower also said he was concerned some people might dump their trash illegally if they cannot bring it to Hatch Hill — or if the cost of doing so grows too expensive.

“Where do you think that stuff was going?” he said.

City officials said they made the changes to reduce the potential for spreading the coronavirus among workers and users of the landfill. They said the changes were needed to keep Hatch Hill open.

“We know it has been a bit of an inconvenience for folks,” said Solid Waste Director Jon Chalmers. “We’re just doing our best to try to stay open for the waste that needs to go, like kitchen waste and things like that, and keep people as safe as we can and comply with the governor’s order.

“Hopefully prevention measures will work and we get through this and we’re able to resume normal operations.”

Chalmers said he hopes to return to normal operations at Hatch Hill, which is owned by the city of Augusta but used by residents of several surrounding towns, as soon as the state’s “stay healthy at home” orders are revoked.

He said a small new building is under construction near the entrance to Hatch Hill, where a worker will help the scale house worker by controlling what is coming into the landfill and help take payments.

Lesley Jones, director of the Augusta Department of Public Works, said the current scale house is too small for more than one employee if the city seeks to comply with social distancing guidelines recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

When the new building is finished, Hatch Hill can go back to having two workers manage incoming and outgoing traffic, and the facility can return to being a full-service operation.

Jones said recycling is not considered an essential service, and eliminating it helps reduce the amount of contact between employees and Hatch Hill users.

She said she has been throwing her own recyclables in with her trash for now, and suggested residents could do the same. Jones said she was concerned the facility will not be able to handle the volume if many people save their recyclables during the COVID-19 pandemic and bring them to Hatch Hill after things return to normal.

Hatch Hill is also not taking construction debris, brush or anything other than household and commercial rubbish.

Heisten suggested Hatch Hill allow people who already have landfill stickers to use the facility at least once a month for the previously charged fees, which were based on the weight of waste.

She said she unloads her own truck, so the only human-to-human contact for Hatch Hill users would be when paying the worker at the scale house. Heisten said grocery stores are able to do that, so the landfill should be able to take payment with proper protections in place.

Heisten also suggested paying through a hole in a window, to limit potential exposure.

The flat fee system was implemented because city officials hoped to encourage people to make fewer trips with more garbage. The cost is $10 per trip per car and $15 per trip for pickup trucks or cars with trailers — whether people bring one bag or a full load.

About 150 people per day use the facility, according to city data.

Hatch Hill is accepting only credit or debit cards — no cash — to also limit contact between the public and employees.

It has also changed its operating schedule. The facility is now open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and no longer open at all on Saturdays. The facility closes for lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. each day.

Augusta has also made changes to its curbside trash collection. Jones said only two city workers — not the usual three — can now be on each garbage truck, so residents should expect their trash might be collected at times that differ from normal.

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