The works

According to Asheville Sanitation Division Director Wendy Simmons, skilled garbage-truck drivers can guide the automated claw that grabs brush waste with enough precision to pick up an egg.

Not a very practical skill, perhaps, but it serves to show what a $250,000 refuse truck is capable of—especially in the hands of an experienced driver who uses the equipment to empty hundreds of roll-cart trash cans during the course of a 10-hour shift. During a recent session of the Asheville Citizen’s Academy at the city’s Public Works Facility, driver Henry Glaze provided a demo of an automated garbage truck in action (the city started using them in 2000, greatly increasing worker safety). In about 20 seconds, a steel arm with a talon-like grip at the end of it extended outward, clutched a green 96-gallon bin and jolted it upward, shaking it upside down over the truck. After Glaze gave a similar demo with a truck that collects brush off the ground, participants sounded a round of applause.

“Anything we should do to make your life easier?” one Academy member asked.

Yes, Glaze replied: “It always helps if you put your trash can far from mailboxes or fences. And please, bag it. Loose garbage tends to fly.”

The Citizen’s Academy is an ongoing series of courses meant to familiarize Asheville residents (including Xpress reporters) with the inner workings of local government. The Sanitation Division was just one stop on the tour of the Public Works Facility, home to Asheville’s Public Works Department, which offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what goes into operating and maintaining things that, for the average citizen, tend to blend into the scenery: streetlights, sidewalks, storm drains, pavement, trees planted along city streets, road signs etc.

Public Works Director Mark Combs, who has been with the city for 13 years, provided an overview of the entire department. Maggie Ullman, Asheville’s energy coordinator, explained how the Environmental Sustainability Office is working to reduce the city’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

David Foster, who oversees the Streets Division, showed participants what the underground portion of a storm sewer looks like and explained his department’s role in cleaning storm drains, planting trees, paving, patching and sweeping streets, making sidewalks and more.

Fleet Manager Chris Dobbins took the group around the municipal mechanic shop. To illustrate how clean-burning compressed natural gas is, Dobbins put a sock over the tailpipe of a running CNG car and had participants smell it after a few minutes. Still clean and white, it was odorless but dampened by water vapor. (Many of the fleet vehicles run on CNG.)

The timing for a tour of the facility was appropriate, coinciding with National Public Works week. Asheville’s Public Works Department marked the occasion with a special event: an “equipment rodeo”—featuring street sweepers, backhoes and automated garbage trucks used in the department’s day-to-day operations—to show off employee skills. An awards ceremony was also held for two Asheville employees who graduated from the Department of Labor’s apprenticeship program.

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