SHADY HILLS — Richard Ayers has a mess on his hands.
It beats a mess in his yard, though, and that's the only alternative he sees.
Since the Dumpster at his Shady Hills home was removed a few weeks ago, he's been driving his trash to the landfill 4 miles away so it doesn't build up.
Ayers, 74, doesn't know why his Dumpster was taken. His neighbors don't know why they lost theirs either. First it seemed like the county was making changes. Then it was the trash hauler. But gossip on the side of Helen K Drive didn't reveal much, and that was all they had to go on.
Ayers said he was walking his dog about 7 a.m. May 11 when he saw the Waste Services of Florida Inc. truck picking up Dumpsters along the street. His had just been taken. The truck driver said something about code enforcement.
Pasco County ordinance 530.19 in the Land Development Code largely prohibits Dumpsters in residential zones, but it allows them off the right of way on properties larger than 1 acre.
Solid waste collection is a privatized free market in unincorporated Pasco County. Residents can take their trash to the landfill, or they can pay a licensed hauler to empty a Dumpster or a regular can.
The ordinance isn't new, said zoning administrator Carol Clarke. But it was brought to the county's attention recently when a stormwater inspector noted that Dumpsters close to the road were interfering with drainage .
"And they were on our right-of-way," Clarke said. "Which is kind of a problem."
Then while county workers were looking into this issue, it came to their attention that some of the Dumpsters were not permitted under zoning regulations — likely the land wasn't large enough. So they put together a list of violations, which Clarke said the trash haulers received when county representatives visited their offices. The offending Dumpsters belong to a range of haulers.
John Power, Pasco's solid waste manager, said that at a meeting about a month ago, code compliance staff members explained the ordinance and the safety concerns to the trash haulers. The county also delivered notices to the homes where Dumpsters were violating codes.
Teri Nugent received one informing her that the Dumpster in her yard on Monteverde Drive was in the right-of-way.
Nugent, 59, would have thought the county would pass the matter down to Waste Services, who would then notify her as their customer.
Then her neighbor called in mid April to say Nugent's Dumpster was missing. Three weeks later, she had it replaced — and placed away from the road — when she switched to County Sanitation, also known as County Recycling.
Not everyone has been able to replace their Dumpsters, though.
Ayers is still taking his trash to the county landfill. He said he never got an answer when he has called Code Enforcement, and he doesn't want to give his business back to Waste Services after the company took his Dumpster. He called haulers in the phone book, he said, but then they transferred him to different offices and he got frustrated.
He wants answers and accountability.
"Somebody has to be responsible," Ayers said.
He doesn't understand why his Dumpster — which was not on the county list of violations — was taken with no notice.
That's where the mess gets messier.
Ayers said a county commissioner's secretary told him Waste Services was removing Dumpsters from Shady Hills. His neighbor Jennifer Littlejohn, 45, heard only businesses are allowed to have Dumpsters, no matter which company empties them. Nugent thought Waste Services had stopped servicing Dumpsters.
Things don't seem to be any clearer for officials. Ian Boyle, Waste Services' government affairs manager, said the hauler is removing Dumpsters from the right-of-way. Employees are offering to switch affected customers to regular curbside pickup, when the company has an up-to-date phone number to call, Boyle said.
"We're still serving Pasco County from a commercial standpoint and a residential standpoint," he said. But the company has to follow county rules.
Clarke said if a Dumpster that was not violating the right-of-way or acreage rules was removed, that was the hauler's decision, not the county's.
Either way, area residents might want to check the status of their Dumpsters, because more changes are coming. Boyle said Waste Services is still correcting violations from the county's list.
"We're just doing as many as we can as quickly as we can," he said.
Clare Lennon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6262. Twitter: @clarelennon.