BRATTLEBORO — The Windham Solid Waste Management District Board of Supervisors voted to stop running the district's materials-recovery facility and providing hauling services on Thursday, changing where recycling goes throughout Windham County.
"Beginning in January, I want to look at the bigger picture of where this district is going," WSWMD Board of Supervisors Chairman Lou Bruso told fellow board members at the meeting.
In favor of closing the MRF were the towns of Brattleboro, Guilford, Jamaica, Newfane, Readsboro, Stratton, Vernon and Whitingham. In favor of keeping the facility open were the towns of Brookline, Dover, Dummerston, Halifax, Putney, Townshend, Wardsboro, Westminster and Wilmington. Tallied up, the vote came out to be 13-10, because Brattleboro's vote counts for six and Westminster's vote counts for two. Marlboro did not have a representative present at the meeting.
In a separate vote, the board kept the assessment model historically used by the district, one that's based solely on population. Towns voting against keeping the population-based assessment model were Brattleboro, Guilford and Vernon.
The town of Brattleboro is in talks with Triple T Trucking about revising the hauling contact. Instead of going to the district's recyling facility on Old Ferry Road in Brattleboro, the town's curbside collection will go to Casella in Rutland. That decision was made Tuesday during a Select Board meeting, two days before the WSWMD meeting.
That loss — 20 percent of the recycling tonnage collected at the district — would have meant an additional $40,000 in assessments for the district, according to WSWMD Executive Director Bob Spencer. Split between the members of the district would have been possible.
"But is that realistic from a truly operational point of view?" Spencer said. "I'm skeptical."
The decision for Brattleboro to change facilities came after Select Board member David Schoales used the town's six votes on the WSWMD Board of Supervisors to continue running the district's recycling facility and impose a new 20 percent surcharge on the more distant towns with transfer stations in the district. That vote, not separated in the motion when finally called at a meeting last month, upset members of the Brattleboro Select Board. The Select Board had advised Schoales to vote to close the facility and support a change in assessment that would go from a population-based model to a combination of population and grand list.
John Allen took Schoales' place at the district's budget meeting on Thursday. Members of the board of supervisors recognized Schoales and his four years of service on the board with a round of applause.
Garbage has changed over the last 30 years, told the WSWMD board.
"The district, when first formulated, was a great idea," he said. "It kind of level-funded everything around. But with state mandates, every town has to look at it individually. That's what Brattleboro did."
Allen said reviewing "cost" and "ease" — since going to Rutland, the town's recyclables marked 3 through 7 will be recycled rather than thrown out and Triple T is giving the town a $24,000 discount in trucking fees because the process would be more streamlined — led to the decision to change facilities.
Using the population assessment for the 19 member towns, the district approved a $423,554 "no-MRF, no-trucking" budget for FY18. That included the one-time closing cost of approximately $94,000. Facing the loss of recyclables from Brattleboro and Hillsboro, N.H. in that fiscal year, the district was looking at a total assessment of $564,170 for an existing operations budget.
Those two towns were said to have the cleanest products coming to the facility, meaning less time for employees to sort through and separate. The loss of tonnage could have required the district to cut hours for employees, causing them to look for work elsewhere. Stratton no longer has its recycling hauled to the district's facility.
Explaining the closure cost, Bruso said, "On June 30, all of our boxes would be out in the field and they would all be full. So we have to send our truck drivers to pick up all those boxes and bring them in. We also know that once those boxes are brought in, there's going to be a whole lot of material on the floor. We either have to process that material or we need to bring it to Triple T and pay the tipping fee for that material."
With the closure cost, the district's FY18 budget is $34,181 less than the year before. Whether more savings or costs will come of the decision to close the facility won't be known until later.
The approved budget contains an incentive for employees to stay until July 30.
"Obviously if we tell them we're going to close the MRF on July 1, they're all going to start looking for jobs," said Bruso.
On how the budget was developed with closure costs in mind, Spencer told the board, "We said, 'We know what it costs to process a ton. We know that we're going to have more electricity. We 're going to have trash rejects. We're going to have additional trucking repairs.' So basically we came up with a one-month retention bonus to any employee that stays."
Sale of the equipment inside the facility would likely be "in excess of the closure costs," he said. The board voted to hold off on making any plans to do so just yet.
Spencer said he believed the building housing the MRF had potential to be repurposed to process organic waste.
Jan Ameen, Westminster's representative who also serves as the executive director of the Franklin County Waste Management in Massachusetts, said she sees "a very big risk" for communities going to single stream recycling. There have been instances where communities return to dual stream recycling once tipping fees drastically increase.
"I think the big unknown that nobody's talking about is we will have a new administration nationally that is apparently playing games with China," Ameen told the board. "If you ask Waste Management or TAM where their materials are going, I guarantee a pretty high percentage is going to China. Part of the reason that tip fees for single stream went up is because China stopped taking bales with engine blocks and tables and all the crap that recyclers in the United States are sending them."
The 20 percent surcharge had been presented to the board of supervisors as way to make assessments more fair. But Bruso said he felt the 50/50 grand list/population model Brattleboro preferred was unfair to some towns.
"I think Dover had a 300 percent increase," he said, getting confirmation by Dover Select Board and WSWMD board member Tom Baltrus. "Stratton had almost a 900 percent increase."
Brattleboro still wanted to bring organics to the district, Town Manager Peter Elwell told the board of supervisors before the vote. The composting operation is a "cash-positive" part of the district, Spencer had said during Tuesday night's Brattleboro Select Board meeting. A grant from the Agency of Natural Resources will help the district identify local businesses that can send their food scraps to the district.
Other services provided through the district include hazardous waste collection, and educational programming in the schools and businesses.
The board of supervisors recognized the employees who have worked for the district through out the year.
"You guys have done a wonderful job but it's a sinking ship," said Gig Zboray, who represents Readsboro. "We have to be responsible to our towns."
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or @CMaysBR.