Environment Finance

City Council discusses West Union fire repair, Big Belly recycling

File photo by Matt Stephens.
Written by Rob Casavant

Athens City Council met Monday night to discuss the repair of Union Street after the 2014 fire, a possible deal with a recycling service, street closure for Boogie On The Bricks and whether to accept The Recycling Partnership’s grant.

Mayor Steve Patterson shared his vision for an “enhanced pedestrian plaza,” between South Congress Street and Court Street, intended to be a less crowded area where people could relax or eat.

Council members expressed concern with the idea since it would mean Union Street would permanently become a one-lane street and take away six parking spots; however, most council members were in support of the plaza.

“Athens is a very pedestrian-heavy city because of the students and how nice it is uptown, but it’s overwhelmed with cars, and it doesn’t make it very nice to go and walk,” said Christine Fahl, D-4th Ward. “We have talked about our city being pedestrian and bike friendly, and this would move that forward.”

Patterson agreed that traffic flow is currently problematic on Union Street during certain times of the day but that it can be fixed through “traffic-signal tweaking”. He continued to express interest in the plaza and said many others had as well.

The landlord for the West Union Street buildings, Guy Phillips, apologized for not rebuilding the area in a more timely fashion. However, he suggested it may have been for the best.

“I kinda like this idea and if it hadn’t taken so long maybe we wouldn’t have had this opportunity,” he said.

Phillips also mentioned that he had not discussed the plaza idea with businesses near the area but he’s “sure they’d be totally in favor of this.”

Council agreed to continue discussion of the West Union Street rebuild in two weeks, saying it plans to conduct a study on the impact of one-lane traffic on West Union Street before then.

City Council also heard from representatives of Big Belly, a company applying data analytics to create “smart recycling systems”. The company is currently stationed in all 50 states and 45 countries.

The representatives said they plan to create a system that improves recycling, sustainability and efficiency, and are now interested in integrating their systems onto Court Street.

Big Belly attaches solar powered hardware to recycling bins, which connect to cloud-based software that tracks recycling data. The tracking happens when garbage is added to the bin, when the bin is full and when it has last been emptied.

According to Area Vice President of Sales Rob Kutner, the data will become “a really good indicator of where people are and what people are doing.” He explained that the biggest benefit is understanding when each bin usually fills up and needs to be emptied. The bin itself separates trash and recycling and is enclosed with a top.

According to Regional Account Manager Joel Nardello, the systems are “very, very easy to use for pedestrians, university students, whoever it may be, and we make it really easy to implement.” Additionally, Nardello said it ends up creating “a cleaner and safer way of doing” recycling.

The software and hardware are both paid for through a subscription-based service called CLEAN Management. The data is stored in a Rackspace facility located in Chicago; however, the data would be owned by Big Belly but accessible through a unique Athens username and password.

There are currently fifty-four 40-gallon trash bins allocated across Court Street, accumulating 2,160 gallons of recycling. Under Big Belly’s plan, Court Street would downsize to 24 double stations that would hold 150 gallons of recycling and trash.

Council members expressed interest in the service, and Councilwoman Jennifer Cochran said she had a positive experience with the system before.

“I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with a Big Belly system, so I do appreciate the concept,” she said.

City council also heard from Boogie On the Bricks Coordinator, President and CEO Judy Wymer to continue the discussion of a street closure request. Wymer officially requested the closure of Court Street from West Union Street to West State Street from 6 a.m. June 25 to 1 a.m. June 26.

City Council also continued debating whether to accept The Recycling Partnership’s grant proposal but did not come to a conclusion.

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Rob Casavant

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