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Under new administrator, St Petersburg's recycling program considers alley pickups

ST. PETERSBURG — Since taking over the city's fledgling recycling program three weeks ago, Mike Dove has spent at least three hours a day in the hundreds of miles of alleys that crisscross the city.

He videotapes them, trying to assess if the city's fleet of recycling trucks can squeeze through alleys often tangled with overgrowth and debris.

He has hopped into cabs of garbage trucks to figure how drivers make it through some alley to pick up the trash.

"I've spent more time in alleys recently than anyone in the world," Dove joked recently.

All this in an attempt to reverse course at the behest of neighborhoods such as Old Northeast and Kenwood, that objected when the city refused to provide alley recycling pickup.

With about 40 percent of city residents who get their trashed picked up in the alleys, its a sizable constituency.

That answer is still about a week away, Dove said recently. He asked Mayor Rick Kriseman for 30 days to assess the recycling program after he assumed oversight from Public Works Administrator Mike Connors on Aug. 3.

On Monday, Connors announced his sudden retirement, a decision that followed a series of miscues, including how he handled recycling.

Some neighborhood groups criticized Connors for what they said was his inflexibility in considering alley pickups.

An obstacle to alley pickups is the vehicle. The new recycling trucks have side arms to pick up the 95-gallon bins, making them essentially too wide for some alleys. One rear-loading truck has arrived and the city is testing it to determine if it will buy another. Problem is, that process could take up to nine months, Dove said.

The rear-loading trucks aren't available for lease, he said. But he's exploring the possibility of using garbage trucks, which already navigate alleys for trash collection.

But any solution has to be a citywide, Dove said.

"We can't single out Old Northeast and Kenwood just because they drove the question. We've got to serve everybody," Dove said.

In the first eight weeks of the recycling program, participation rates are higher than expected, especially in neighborhoods such as Snell Isle, which topped 60 percent. Dove has heard that many residents are finding it takes them a month to fill up their bin, possibly calming fears that the city had erred by not picking up recyclables every week. Currently, it's every other week.

For now, Dove's leadership has given some neighborhood leaders hope that the city is actually listening to their concerns.

"Mike Dove is saying all the right things," said Peter Motzenbecker, president of the Historic Old Northeast neighborhood association. "He's actually doing the work to figure out what it would take. Mike Connors flat out said it couldn't be done."

Carolyn Gambuti, Historic Kenwood neighborhood association president, said Dove's decision to re-examine alley recycling is a step in the right direction.

"Just the fact that he's willing to take a look and do the work and make the residents happy was a huge change," Gambuti said.

Dove has a long history working for the city of St. Petersburg, starting as a planner in 1980. After Mayor David Fischer decided to put more emphasis on neighborhoods, Dove took over as the neighborhood partnership director in 1993. He left briefly in 2000, returning a year later as deputy mayor for neighborhood services.

When newly elected Mayor Rick Kriseman asked him to come back as director of neighborhood affairs in 2014, Dove agreed. He makes $143,500.

"Mike Dove has absolutely been out there doing what he can to make sure he's getting all the information he needs to make the right decision," Gambuti said.

Contact Charlie Frago at or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.