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Updated Feb. 1 with recycling info below.
By Connie Leinbach
The cavalry arrived on Ocracoke on Tuesday to clean up the island dump.
Though not on a horse, Swan Quarter Convenience Site Manager Gwen Cahoon was on the ground commanding the troops and by mid-afternoon, the Ocracoke Convenience Site was looking better than it has in a long time.
As she directed traffic and the site workers in straightening up the place, Cahoon said Hyde County Manager Kris Noble sent her over.
“You should see my site,” Cahoon said. “It’s beautiful.”
Cahoon was unmistakable in her wide-brimmed straw hat adorned with buttons and a piece of a chartreuse T-shirt flowing down the back to cover her neck. “We’re supposed to wear bright yellow or orange,” she said.
Site staffers Eldon Robinson and Brandon Bundy sported fluorescent vests.
“We will ‘field-day’ the heck out of it; do a little bit every day,” said Bundy, a recently hired part-time worker and former Marine before he left for the day. “She’s got it down to a science.”
“Field day” is a military term, he said, which means “to clean up.”
Cahoon has been the manager at the Swan Quarter Convenience Site, 488 Credle Rd., for 12 years and prides herself on its pristine condition, which she was putting to work on Ocracoke on Tuesday.
“There’s some corrugated cardboard in the recycling,” she told Robinson. He then fished the cardboard out of the co-mingle bin and put it into the corrugated cardboard bin. “Recycling is a big thing,” Cahoon said. “If there are too many non-recyclables in the (co-mingle) bin, we won’t get paid for it.”
Cahoon and the staff distributed about 150 fliers with recycling information to islanders dropping off trash. The staff will better police the recycling bins, she said, because contaminated recycling bins then go to a landfill for which the county must pay tipping fees.
When the convenience site method of trash management was put in place several years ago, the idea was for Hyde County to save about $300,000 yearly in trash costs.
The solid waste budget for this fiscal year (ending June 30) is $942,133, according to the budget posted on the Hyde County website. That amount is up from $871,163 spent last year.
Recycling revenues are unclear on the county budget, but a few revenue line items in the 109-page document show revenues for cardboard and electronics recycling. Noble said the recycling goes to East Carolina Behavioral Health in Washington, Beaufort County.
As islanders continued to drop off trash and recyclables, Cahoon took Robinson to the pile of wooden pallets near the corrugated cardboard bin and explained what pallets the site could keep, and which ones should be trashed.
“These (whole ones) should be piled up nicely,” she said. “Some people like to have these.”
A pair of islanders dropped off hunks of concrete.
“You should set that aside somewhere as people might like them for their driveways,” Cahoon said to Robinson. “I have a pile for it at Swan Quarter.” But later in the day, Robinson said the concrete chunks, which had paint on them, were placed in the construction debris bin.
Cleaning up as they go so that things don’t get too out of hand is a good practice, she explained.
“They’ve never been trained,” she said of the dump staffers.
A major area to keep clean is under the household trash bins at the dump entrance—cleaning it underneath when the bins are removed so that the gunk leaking out is eliminated, she said.
As for the debris behind the dumps, Cahoon said James Blount, county solid waste superintendent, will bring a crew to clean that up.
Noble, at the Ocracoke Civic & Business Association civic affairs meeting Jan. 9, said that trash on Ocracoke is a big problem but there are a lot of opportunities to make it better.
“We’re looking at all different angles because we have a lot of problems,” Noble said on Tuesday.
For one thing, the Ocracoke site has much more volume than the Swan Quarter site, which employs Cahoon full time and another part-timer, she said.
“When you go to the Swan Quarter site, Miss Gwen greets you and tells you where to put everything,” Noble said. She credited Tom Pahl with suggesting Cahoon do some training on the island.
Noble and Blount are researching grants and Blount recently approached Red Box, a company that supplies debris bins with attached porta-potties. At least two construction sites on Ocracoke are currently using them.
“The contractors like them because they have to rent a porta-potty anyway and it saves them the cost of taking debris to the dump,” Noble said, which in turn, reduces construction debris at the dump.
Cahoon and Robinson said that now, when islanders bring a trailer full of construction debris, they are asked to take it to the Dare County dump.
Cahoon said her help at the Ocracoke site is not over.
“I shall return,” she said.