PITTSFIELD — For years the waste-to-power plant at 500 Hubbard Ave. was a place city residents could drop off trash, recycling and yard waste. Until last week.
Now, Pittsfielders are being directed to drive their waste to another community after the Community Eco Power plant abruptly shut down drop-off services last month. Curbside pickup has not been affected.
City officials say that they were given about a three-week heads up that residential drop-off at the plant would end on April 30. In the meantime, the city is directing residents to use the Lenox Waste Transfer Facility, where they will be charged a fee.
Commissioner of Public Services and Utilities Ricardo Morales said he’s in the process of drafting requests for bids to find another location where residents can drop off their yard waste at no additional cost.
Community Eco Power filed for bankruptcy protection last year, and is expected to sell the plant to Casella Waste Management, which has said it would operate the facility as a transfer station.
Morales said Monday that Community Eco Power did not elaborate on the reason for the end in service, but he added that the city “fully anticipates that their operations stopped because of their existing conditions in staffing and level of commitment to the facility.”
“They are clearly having issues,” he said. “That’s why they’re in bankruptcy.”
As part of the sale process, Community Eco Power had to make sure all "qualified bidders" had an opportunity to outbid the current offer to buy the plant for $1 million. Alternative bidders had until April 1 to send their bids to the company.
For almost a year, Community Eco Power has been battling a range of cash flow problems that have landed the company’s branches in Pittsfield and Springfield in bankruptcy court.
When the company filled for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections in June 2021, company representatives promised the city that operations would continue as normal as the company restructured its debt.
Though in filings that surprised city officials in February, it became clear that business as usual was not in the cards for the city’s waste-to-power plant as the company searched for a buyer.
Now signatures on a $5 million sale agreement between Community Eco Power and Casella Waste Management are all that’s left to finalize the new ownership of the plant.
City officials say that they’re preparing to meet with representatives from Casella later this week to discuss how the city’s singular waste plant will convert to a waste transfer station — and what exactly that will mean for residents.
Community Eco Power got the green light on Friday from a judge in the U.S Bankruptcy Court in Springfield to go ahead with the sale of the Pittsfield plant to Casella.
Casella had been poised to purchase the Pittsfield property for $1 million in April when F&G LLC, a local trash hauling division of Connecticut-based USA Hauling and Recycling, submitted an 11th hour objection to the sale on April 29.
In the objection, F&G presented its own counter bid of $1.5 million in an attempt to scoop up the Pittsfield property in addition to the company’s recent purchase of the Community Eco Power location in Springfield.
Like the Pittsfield plant, the former Community Eco Power property on Springfield’s Bondi Island was a trash incinerator. According to reporting from MassLive, F&G now plans to decommission the 30-year-old incinerator and run the plant as a trash transfer station — a facility where trash is gathered, sorted and staged before it’s shipped off to a landfill or other location.
Filings in the Pittsfield case shows that Casella has similar plans in store for the Hubbard Avenue plant.
F&G’s bid led to an auction on Zoom and a bidding war between Casella and the company on Thursday. Community Eco Power CEO Richard Fish wrote to the court that when all was said and done, a $5 million bid by Casella, which overshot F&G’s final bid by $1 million, was deemed the “highest and best offer.”
What’s in store for city trash?
Morales is set to meet this week with representatives from Casella, which currently has a contract with the city to pick up curbside trash, bulky waste and recycling.
If approved by a bankruptcy judge, a national company that boasts of capturing “value from waste” will take over and decommission a Pittsfield incinerator that has been a city landmark for two generations.
He said that once the sale goes through, he believes that residential drop-off service at the Hubbard Avenue plant will resume — likely in the same way the service ran under Community Eco Power.
Still, Casella’s ownership will mean changes for the city — perhaps not to residents, but to the city’s bottom line. Trash costs for the city were previously offset by the Community Eco Power’s use of waste to generate energy.
Morales said that to cover the cost of the existing contract with Casella and the potential costs that come with hiring Casella to transfer the city’s trash, he’s anticipating a 15 percent increase in the city’s budget for trash services. This year the city budgeted $1.79 million for trash disposal.
“This gives us an opportunity to evaluate what we’re doing with our trash, what we’re doing with our recycling,” Morales said. “For the long-term projection what’s best is really to reduce trash.”