Regional Transfer Station May Be Headed For A Breakup

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By: Brent Runyon
Published: 02/10/12

The Upper Cape Regional Transfer Station is approaching a critical juncture, as a result of declining trash volumes, rising costs, increased recycling, and diverging town interests.

The transfer station is operated under an intermunicipal agreement among the four towns of Falmouth, Mashpee, Sandwich, and Bourne. Dissolving that agreement was a topic of discussion at the monthly meeting of the transfer station managers on Wednesday.

“I think we’re all in agreement that if nothing changes between now and the end of 2014 we’re going to go our separate ways,” said Catherine A. Laurent, Mashpee representative and department of public works director.
The station is where most of the trash on the Upper Cape is loaded onto trains and transported to SEMASS, the waste-to-energy facility in Rochester.

Falmouth, Mashpee and Sandwich have contracts with SEMASS to dispose of all municipal and residential trash there. Those contracts will expire in December of 2014. Bourne operates its own integrated solid waste facility.
Dissolving the agreement would not mean the facility would close. It could be reconfigured to handle trash or recycling, or for other uses.

“The question is, do we as the Upper Cape towns look at expanding the use of the facility ourselves, or do we want to put it out to a request for proposals,” Ms. Laurent said.

The board of directors could put out a request for proposals, she said, and find out what different companies envision for the site, which is near the Falmouth gate of the Massachusetts Military Reservation.

Sandwich Department of Public Works Director Paul S. Tilton asked representatives from SEMASS who attended the meeting if they would be interested in taking over the operation of the transfer station.

“I would say yes,” said Richard O’Connor, waste manager for SEMASS. “That’s our business, so, yes, we would be interested in looking at that.”

But that is just one of many possible options for the facility. Ms. Laurent wondered if it could be converted into a combination transfer station and recycling center, and also handle compost.

Falmouth transfer station representative John S. Elliott said it is probably not financially feasible to turn the facility into a recycling center, unless the materials are baled together to increase the density. The loose materials do not weigh enough to justify transport by train, he said.

Bourne Integrated Solid Waste Management General Manager Daniel T. Barrett said recycling will increase in the future but not trash volumes.

“Recycling is not going away,” Mr. O’Connor agreed. A state move toward separating composting material will reduce solid waste volumes further.

Carl F. Cavossa Jr., owner of Cavossa Disposal Corp., said the volume of trash entering the transfer station is low enough that the existing facility could be divided into two sections; one for trash, and the other for recycling. It might be financially feasible to use trucks rather than trains to transport the trash and recycling off-Cape, he said.

Increasing traffic to the transfer station would not be an issue, Mr. Cavossa said, because the facility is convenient for Falmouth and Mashpee, but not for Sandwich, he said.

Trash volumes will continue to decline, Mr. Cavossa said, because of the economy and more towns implementing pay-as-you-throw systems. Sandwich selectmen implemented pay-as-you-throw last year, and Falmouth selectmen will consider pay-as-you-throw at a future meeting.

Another possible manager of the facility could be Massachusetts Coastal Railroad, the company that owns the trains. Sean Giardino, the director of sales and marketing, said the Mass Coastal could take over the facility to export the trash, and also bring onto the Cape heavy goods like lumber and ash from SEMASS, which could be used to make cement.

“We’re very interested in using that facility,” he said.

Yet another possibility is that a private trash hauling company, like Cavossa Disposal, Allied Waste, or Waste Management, could take over the transfer station and convert it into a private facility. Mr. Cavossa asked if the facility could be used to transport construction and demolition materials, but Ms. Laurent said that would raise permitting questions.

The Upper Cape Transfer Station is within the borders of Falmouth, but near the Massachusetts Military Reservation. Whether it is subject to Town of Falmouth regulations is a question for Ms. Laurent. “Is it technically in Falmouth? I don’t know,” Ms. Laurent said. If it is regulated by the town, any change of use will have to be approved by the Falmouth Board of Health. That question will be answered at a future meeting, Ms. Laurent said.

Mr. Cavossa asked if it was feasible for the transfer station to be under new management by June, before the start of the next fiscal year. The members of the board of managers said that timetable was unlikely.

Mr. O’Connor pointed out that, whether or not the transfer station is managed by the towns, the waste from the Cape towns is contracted to continue to go to SEMASS until 2015.

As part of the discussion, the board of managers scrapped a plan to create a new committee to advise the towns on trash options for the future.

The committee was proposed at a previous meeting to identify the best options for the future of the station. Mr. Elliott said the board did not have the power to appoint such a committee, and it would have to be done by each town’s selectmen or town managers. “I would like some suggestions about how the board feels this committee should be made up,” he said.

“Do we even need one? Or do we as a board just handle it ourselves?” Mr. Barrett said. Rather than form a committee to advise the board on a suggestion, the board itself could suggest a plan of action to selectmen.

Ms. Laurent agreed as long as the town managers and selectmen were kept informed. The managers said they would continue the discussion at a future meeting.

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