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Fort Liberty begins cleaning up ‘unacceptable’ trash backup

The garrison Commander called the trash build-up at Fort Liberty “unacceptable" and pledged that soldiers would not be stuck with clean-up duty.
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Fort Liberty Garrison Commander Col. John Wilcox, Command Sgt. Major Gregory Seymour, and Director of Public Works employees move trash to alleviate the trash overflow accumulation on the installation. (U.S. Army photo by Jason Ragucci, Garrison Public Affairs).

Officials at Fort Liberty appeared to be tackling the overflowing dumpsters and uncollected trash across the Army’s largest military base on Tuesday after complaints and pictures of the refuse surfaced. 

Garrison Commander Col. John Wilcox said in a press release the trash build-up at Fort Liberty is “unacceptable” and that officials are working to resolve it through a “phased approach.” Officials also shared a video on social media of Wilcox and others cleaning up some of the base dumpsters.

Roughly 10% of the Army’s active duty force is assigned to Fort Liberty. Over 40,000 people live on Fort Bragg, which hosts an active duty force close to 50,000. The base produces around 25,000 tons of garbage annually, according to contractor solicitation documents

On Tuesday, base officials said large trash containers had been brought onto base to collect overflow and officials plan to continue placing containers around the installation over the next week for new trash. They are also working with local vendors for “stopgap refuse support,” according to a release from the base.

The Army blamed “unexpected equipment issues” as the root of the backup, which led to trash piling up over a longer than normal period of time.  

Officials emphasized that soldiers would not be part of clean up efforts.

Jeff Williamson, acting Director of Public Works, and Garrison Commander Col. John Wilcox at trash collection site that had been overflowing with uncollected garbage. U.S. Army photo by Jason Ragucci.

“We are not asking Soldiers to pick up trash or solve waste management equipment issues. But we are asking for their patience as we resolve this problem,” base officials said. “We are here to support Soldiers, their families, and our civilian employees – and we take that responsibility seriously.”

A contract solicitation posted on Jan. 29 indicates that Fort Liberty is seeking a contractor for waste management services for the base and surrounding area. The work includes trash collection, transportation, recycling, removal and disposal.

Officials did not respond to questions about the solicitation. 

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Family Housing Delays

While the uncollected trash issue appears to have hit barracks hard, trash service may also be an issue in the base’s family housing area.

A former soldier and current military spouse told Task & Purpose Tuesday that inconsistent trash removal within family housing at Fort Liberty has led to families facing fines. The unit is owned and operated privately by Corvias. Base officials confirmed that while the barracks-related trash service falls under garrison officials, Corvias is responsible for trash services at Fort Liberty’s family housing.

“We definitely moved on post because we heard good things and wanted it to be easier,” as she left the Army and prepared to have a baby, she said. “We lived in an apartment complex maybe five to 10 minutes outside of Fort Liberty and the trash always got picked up.” 

The former soldier said that while Tuesday is their designated trash pick-up day, collections sometimes do not occur until Thursday or even skip a week. If residents leave their bins out other than Tuesday morning or Monday night, they can be fined between $60 and $120, she said.

The former soldier said she has started to wait until she hears the trucks coming to pick up the garbage while she’s home, “I’ll quickly run outside and grab my little bin and roll it out to the front,” she said. “It’s very frustrating to live like that. Some people are dual military or have double jobs and not everyone’s home all the time.”

Some families, including hers, have started loading up their trucks and taking their trash to the local compactor off post, she said. 

“I’m pregnant right now so the smell of trash makes me go crazy,” she said.

Mary Humphreys, a spokesperson for Corvias, told Task & Purpose that family housing trash service is handled through a contract with waste management, “which they have provided service at regular cadence and without disruption.”

“The only time there may have been a delay in service would have been due to a weather event or the installation access closure for an event or holiday,” Humphreys said.

Corvias asks residents to put bins out the night before and clear them after pick up which is consistent with the Resident Responsibility Guide, “but there aren’t related fines levied,” she said.

Quality of Life issues

The quality of life problems on military bases have captured the attention of Congress which stood up the House Armed Services Committee’s Quality of Life panel

The trash issue with Fort Liberty’s family housing units calls into question the benefits of privatized housing and barracks being pushed by Washington DC lawmakers. In a hearing last week, members of Congress asked the services to invest more money into private living options for service members.

Rep. Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) referred to it as getting the Defense Department “out of the hotel management business.”

UPDATE: 2/14/2024; This article has been updated with a statement from Corvias.

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