Bloomsburg, PA Ends Free Public Trash Collection

In the aftermath of the most devastating flood in the history of Bloomsburg, PA I personally witnessed some extraordinary work by the community to help with clean up. Students from both Bloomsburg University and Bloomsburg High School showed up at dozens of homes to scoop the mud out, strip walls, carry destroyed items to the curb, and so much more. I witnessed people coming from higher ground in unaffected areas to do the same for people they’ve never met. And all that help ended up on the curb.

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This morning I read in the Press Enterprise that the town has decided to stop collecting and disposing of the trash as a common good. I have mixed feelings about this as there is still so much to do, but I can understand the decision. Doing this costs money and now people seem to be taking advantage of the situation by placing an excessive amount of construction items in their curb-side piles. From the Press Enterprise article, Free flood pickups end, by Leon Bogdan,

“We wanted to help through the worst of it and get personal possessions that were ruined in the flood taken away quickly. But we started getting construction material now,” Mayor Knorr added. “The last thing we want to do is make it harder for people, but we had to decide where that line is to stop providing public Dumpsters. We’re still hopeful of getting some FEMA money. But if we find this is an undue hardship, we’ll evaluate it and go from there,” he said.

I was amazed at the work they did helping everyone take care of the trash — and remember, this flood happened on September 9, 2011 so the town has been at this for two weeks. If you could have seen the constant dumping of trash on the old tennis courts in the Bloomsburg Town Park you’d have a better idea of what the scale of all this is about.

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That photo above is from the Sunday following the flood while the image below is ten days later.

Trash Piles

I found the article from the PE’s teaser post to go buy today’s paper on Facebook this morning. Since I am a paid subscriber, I downloaded the PDF of today’s paper to read the article. Relatively fair reporting, but what I find amazing are the number of negative comments amassing on the Facebook page demanding the Town continue to do this for free. One in particular struck a chord with me and the parallels to the imperative to provide free and open access to flood news that I’ve seen …

God Forbid someone NOT profit from this flooding…..guess it was just a matter of time but let me tell you there are people out there who didn’t work their jobs for almost 2 weeks due to clean up do you really think they have the money the trash haulers want for bulk pick up or better yet for dumpster use. These townships should be ashamed.

I’m not sure the town needs to continue to do this for free, but they provided a very costly service for free for two weeks. The PE closed down as soon as 12th street and the west end of town was suitable for standard delivery. Those of us who criticized the Press in the days following the flood for not providing free access to critical information got lambasted on the PE Facebook page for wanting a free hand out. People said that the Press was a business and news cost money to produce. In fact a PE representative actually told me the same thing on a Facebook posting. Last I checked running a town is a business as well — with a real balance sheet that needs to be considered … I guess I just don’t understand the context well enough.

What I appreciated most was an incredibly measured comment in the article by an old friend from our days at Bloomsburg High School,

Keri Gaito, whose home in the 900 block of West Main has foundation damage and had 4 feet of water on its first floor, was grateful for the town’s help in hauling away four or five large loads of flood debris. “They did a real nice job. Took it out quickly. It was a big help. I can understand the town can’t keep doing it forever,” she said.

Providing critical services in the wake of a disaster like the Bloomsburg Flood is a critical link to restoring order to a devastated community. In my mind hauling trash for free, scooping mud because a neighbor needs it, or providing open access to critical pieces of news about the event are all part of a larger value chain leading towards recovery.