Pittsfield committee studying waste disposal options

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PITTSFIELD — A revitalized Pittsfield Resource Recovery Committee has been asked to recommend alternate trash disposal options for the city should the Covanta Energy Corp. waste-to-energy facility close next year as announced.

The committee, which met Monday for the first time in recent memory, also discussed a proposal to change city code to require a standardized trash and recycling toter system. That system was described by officials with Republic Services, the city's solid waste and recyclables pickup contractor.

Newly elected Chairwoman Rhonda Serre said the committee was asked by Mayor Linda M. Tyer to analyze the city's options should the Covanta waste incinerator facility close, which company officials said in July was planned for financial reasons. The mayor is asking for recommendations from the committee by Dec. 1, Serre said, or prior to the start of planning for the fiscal 2018 city budget.

Committee members also decided Monday they would consider the curbside pickup change proposed by Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo's as part of a full range of options for lowering costs while providing trash and recycling services whether or not Covanta closes.

City Director of Finance and Administration Matthew Kerwood said discussions have commenced to try to avert the closing — also involving Crane & Co., which is supplied steam from the waste incineration facility for its nearby manufacturing operations.

Kerwood said of those talks that "while this is [taking place] above my level," he believes all options for resolving or dealing with the possible closing are being discussed.

Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood, who also attended the committee session, said afterward that should the Covanta facility close "it would affect the city and private [waste] haulers all around the county."

The principal change, he said, would be that the city and towns that bring waste to the Hubbard Avenue facility and waste haulers with private customers would have to travel farther to other facilities — in Pownal, Vt., New York state or elsewhere in the region.

The added expense would be in terms of extra distance traveled and whatever "tipping fees" are charged at the other facility, Collingwood said. The city also accounts for just over 20 percent of the waste trucked to the Covanta facility, he said, while 75 percent of the Berkshire County-generated volume comes from private or haulers working for other communities.

The New Jersey-based Covanta announced that it would close its facility because of "our current economic conditions," a spokesman said, adding that "high operating costs and the size of the facility have made it increasingly difficult to run the plant profitably."

The spokesman told The Eagle: "To operate well into the future, the facility would require certain investments. Barring a change to the current revenue structure, the economics do not work to justify continued operations and the necessary investment."

The facility, built in 1981 by Vicon Construction Co., has been run by Covanta since 2007. Covanta took over the structure when it purchased Energy Answers, the firm that bought the facility from Vicon in 1994. Covanta operates a total of 45 energy-to-waste plants.

The city committee also heard from Caccamo on his proposal, which was referred to the group by the City Council for a recommendation. He said his aim is to revive past consideration of a toter system, involving standardized, wheeled plastic containers for both trash and recyclables for placement at the curbside for pickup.

The councilor and the Republic Services representatives said the containers with securable lids would eliminate the mixed styles of containers that residents now purchase separately and the garbage bags that some residents place at the curb on collection days.

"Some residents literally dump bags of garbage on the sidewalks," Caccamo said, where he said waste can spill out or animals can tear open containers and spread the contents into the streets.

Collingwood and Kerwood noted that such toter proposals have been brought up in the past but haven't received the approval of the council. Kerwood's suggestion that details of a 2009 proposal be distributed to the committee members prior to their next meeting for review was adopted.

"There is the past proposal," he said, "which could be tweaked."

Deborah Bolesky, general manager of Republic Services' Pittsfield division, and Dan Higgins, area municipal services manager, and other company officials showed a video describing a fully automated pickup system as well as other options with standardized containers, pointing out the advantages and costs associated with each.

Automatic pickup involves a truck with an arm-like hoist that allows the driver to pick up the roller containers and dump them in the back of the vehicle while remaining in the driver's seat. Normally, only one person is required, compared to two or three when hand pickup is required.

The system is cleaner and sanitary, they said, and safer in that there are fewer employees injured from handling bags or bulky containers, and workers tend to file fewer injury claims and stay with the company longer.

Added expenses would come in purchasing the standardized containers — estimated at about $1.8 million for Pittsfield — and costs associated with maintaining specialized trucks with hoist equipment.

Savings, they said, would also be realized because the system is designed to encourage recycling — producing less waste tonnage to be disposed of at high cost.

The company officials said the typical containers for waste hold 65 gallons and the recycling containers are 95 gallons in size, which, along with educational efforts to improve the recycling rate, resulted in a cost savings in similar communities the company serves — such as West Springfield and Marlborough.

Projected savings for Pittsfield with the fully automated system were estimated at $174,000 annually, with 2,800 fewer tons of waste processed because of recycling.

Among options should a new curbside pickup program be adopted are whether to have "single-stream" recyclable processing, which does not require separate collection of glass, paper, metals or other materials for that purpose, and a "pay-as-you-throw" system, which also provides an incentive for recycling and would produce cost savings, as well as possible revenue from the possible sale of standardized plastic bags.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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