Townshend officials are asking voters about the future of trash collection in the town, including this aging compactor truck. (Mike Faher/Reformer)
Townshend officials are asking voters about the future of trash collection in the town, including this aging compactor truck. (Mike Faher/Reformer)

TOWNSHEND -- Town residents soon will be talking trash.

The issue of how and where Townshend disposes of its garbage is expected to be a big topic at Town Meeting, with officials asking voters to authorize as much as $125,000 for "modernization, expansion and/or relocation" of the transfer station.

Separately, Windham Solid Waste Management District has pitched the idea of locating a "regional recycling center" in Townshend and has allocated $10,000 to begin developing a plan for such a facility.

But Townshend Selectboard Vice Chairwoman Hedy Harris said residents must first give officials some direction before any specific plan advances.

"It starts with, "What are we going to do?'" Harris said. "And then we can focus on ‘how.'"

She added that, "it's a big decision and a very long-lasting one."

The future of Townshend's transfer station is not a new topic. Officials have said they are concerned about the town's deteriorating compacting truck and limited space at the Grafton Road transfer station.

Last year, the Selectboard asked voters to allocate $5,000 for a study of a new transfer station and recycling facility. That article was nixed at Town Meeting.

But the issue is not going away, with Harris saying the town's compactor is aging and "we need to do something." Hence the article for Town Meeting on March 4.

The town's choices might get expensive. Harris said research shows that replacing the current compactor might cost $130,000.

She sees at least two other options: Officials could establish a new transfer-station operation somewhere else, or the town could get out of the trash business entirely and leave it to residents to hire their own haulers.

"Somebody might come up with a fourth option that none of us have thought of," Harris said.

The overall question, Harris said, is: "What do you want to do with your trash?"

Also complicating matters is Act 148, a state law that mandates increased recycling in incremental steps over the next several years.

"We don't have much room for expansion (of recycling) at the current facility" Harris said.

Act 148 also is making administrators at Windham Solid Waste Management District rethink the way they do business. The Brattleboro-based agency handles recyclables collected from area towns and levies an annual assessment on those towns.

Starting next year, Act 148 requires trash haulers who offer curbside pickup to also collect recyclables. The costs of such a mandate has spurred concern for those haulers, especially for smaller companies.

At a meeting in early January, Windham Solid Waste's board allocated $10,000 from the district's landfill post-closure fund to begin developing a conceptual design for a regional recycling center.

There has been discussion between the district and Townshend Selectboard about building such a facility in Townshend in conjunction with the town's efforts to upgrade its trash facilities.

In theory, the recycling center would work this way: Haulers could collect recyclables in the West River Valley area and beyond, then offload them at the center.

That would free those trucks to pick up trash in the same area without first having to return to Brattleboro to dump recyclables. Windham Solid Waste -- or a contractor employed by the district -- would be responsible for regularly hauling the collected recyclables from the regional center to Brattleboro.

The idea is to cut transportation costs for haulers, Windham Solid Waste Executive Director Bob Spencer said at the time of the board's vote.

"The district is really trying to work with our haulers to make their existing equipment functional under Act 148," Spencer said.

But there are still many unanswered questions -- including whether Townshend is willing to host a regional recycling facility. Spencer said that, "ultimately, it will be Townshend's decision."

Harris said the Selectboard has not yet voted on the matter.

"I think it's still too nebulous for people to vote on," she said.

She added that there would have to be a fee structure at the recycling center to make it "financially advantageous" for the town, given the potential impacts of the facility.

"It would mean more traffic, more trucks," Harris said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.