Staffing shortages lead to temporary closure of 7 of county's 12 waste and recycling collection centers

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PITTSBORO— Seven of Chatham County’s waste and recycling collection centers will close temporarily starting Sept. 23 due to driver shortages, the county announced on Thursday.

“Solid Waste & Recycling hauls all of our own containers from the 12 Collection Centers,” said Kevin Lindley, the county’s Environmental Quality Director, in that county release.

When fully staffed, the county has five Commercial Driver License (CDL) drivers. Currently, it only has two.

“While we are working as hard as possible to fill the vacant positions, the labor market for CDL drivers is very limited at this time,” Lindley said. “We have considered all of our options and have determined that reducing the number of centers serviced by our remaining drivers is our best option to continue to provide this needed service with our limited resources.”

The following centers will close starting next week: Asbury, Bennett, Crutchfield Crossroads, Goldston, Hadley, Harpers Crossroads, and Marthas Chapel.

Staffing shortages spanning multiple industries and sectors across the state have led to closures and delays of service in many areas, including hospitality, education, and now, waste and recycling collections.

“The Collection Centers will reopen when the Solid Waste & Recycling division is properly staffed,” Chatham Public Information Officer Kara Dudley said in the Thursday release.

The county has five other collection centers that will remain open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday — Bonlee, Cole Park, Moncure, Pittsboro and Siler City. All centers close Sundays. The Moncure Collection Center is usually closed on Wednesdays, Dudley said, but will be open during this time.

County Manager Dan LaMontagne told commissioners at their Monday meeting that the department now has two potential drivers in pre-employment who will hopefully be driving in the next week or so.

“We realize this is a huge inconvenience, it is by no means what we would choose to do. We by no means want this to be any longer than the necessary,” he said Monday. “I apologize for all the complaints that you as a board are receiving, we will make this as temporary as possible.”

Residents can use the collection centers if they have a 2021 decal, which they must present every time they use the center. A set of two decals is issued to landowners who’ve paid a Solid Waste Fee per each qualified dwelling; additional decals are available for $10 by contacting the department’s main office at recycle@chathamcountync.gov or 919-542-5516.

“With fewer centers open,” the release said, “residents should expect these five centers to be busy.”

On  the News + Record's Facebook post sharing the county's update, many residents were upset by the news. Some claimed the majority of the county's rural collection sites were the ones closing.

"I understand the labor shortage and tough decisions. But there has to be a better solution," one poster said. "It is not fair that the rural centers are closing completely and other centers are left open on a full schedule. Why not close all centers an extra day or possibly two days each week?" 

One commenter said the open sites were distributed evenly around the county.

"If you look closer you may actually see the closures aren’t only in your area," the commenter posted. "It’s time to be creative instead of complaining about things you cannot control. Or — get your CDL and apply for an open position. Be the solution not the problem."

At Monday’s meeting, commissioners discussed claims that rural locations were being unevenly closed. LaMontagne stressed that the decision to close centers wasn’t arbitrary.

A FAQ on the county’s website regarding how the sites were chosen says that four of the centers — Bonlee, Cole Park, Siler City, and Pittsboro — are always open on Wednesdays. Additionally, they’re the only four centers with mixed recycling compactors, reducing the number of hauls needed for mixed recycling. Cole Park and Pittsboro are the only two centers with pre-crushers, reducing the number of hauls for trash. 

“These four centers are spread geographically so we can continue to offer reasonable access to trash disposal throughout our large county,” the FAQ page reads. “We selected Moncure as our fifth center so there would be access to those in the southeast.”

The FAQ can be accessed at www.chathamcountync.gov/CollectionCentersClosingFAQ.

Anyone interested in working as a driver and heavy equipment operator can visit the Chatham County Employment Opportunity webpage to apply. Future updates will be posted at the county’s Solid Waste and Recycling website.

“While we understand closing Collection Centers will cause inconveniences for Chatham County residents,” Lindley said in the release, “we simply do not have the drivers we need to manage all 12 centers. We ask for residents’ patience as we work to stabilize our driving staff.”

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