Future of trash, recycling challenges Vergennes area, county

VERGENNES — While the Addison County Solid Waste Management District works toward a long-term replacement for the Vergennes recycling center, selectboards of three of the other towns that it serves have agreed to pay higher costs to keep the center open until the end of the year.
The fourth, Waltham, is set to take up the question this Monday, Aug. 13, and Selectboard Chairman Michael Grace said his recommendation to the board “probably will be to stay with Vergennes at this time,” given the lack of other options.
The Vergennes center has served for years as a regional trash-disposal solution for many residents of Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Addison, Panton and Waltham, and it has been funded by line items in those communities’ annual budgets. Residents may bring recycling to the Canal Street facility at no additional charge and have been able to drop off trash bags to a private hauler there for $3 apiece.
But this past April Casella Inc. announced a major price increase for handling recycled materials, and at the same time said it could not guarantee there would be no further changes in its rates.
That price increase, which would have translated to a hike of $34,600 to roughly $107,600 a year to operate the center, came after the selectboards in Ferrisburgh, Addison, Panton and Waltham had already budgeted in March for their annual payments to Vergennes.
The Vergennes City Council responded to the price hike by voting to fund the center only through December, at a higher rate, assuming similar support from the towns.
As of last week the Addison, Ferrisburgh and Panton boards had agreed to do the same on the short-term basis, on the same pro-rated terms: Ferrisburgh’s share of the center’s operating cost remains at 20 percent, and the other three towns at 10 percent apiece.
“Everybody should pay their fair share,” said Panton Selectboard Chairman Howard Hall.
Their payments actually could have been higher, but Addison County Solid Waste Management District (ACSWMD) officials agreed to shoulder some of the increase, at least through December, to keep the center’s monthly operating cost at $7,732, not the roughly $9,000 it would have been otherwise.
Vergennes Mayor Renny Perry was happy to hear of the towns’ responses, which means the city can almost certainly keep the center open the remainder of 2018.
“At least we’ll have some time to figure out what to do,” Perry said.
While several suggested the current Vergennes site was no longer a long-term option, ACSWMD manager Teri Kuczynski suggested the best answer was a regional drop-off center. But establishing the center would almost certainly mean a land purchase, permitting process, and construction project — in other words, many months in the making, leaving the question of what should be done when January 2019 arrives.
If the Vergennes center does close at the end of the year with nothing to replace it, every resident of the five towns would either have to contract for curbside pickup or bring their trash and recycling to ACSWMD’s Middlebury transfer station, a drive of half an hour or more from some areas in Ferrisburgh and from Addison and Panton’s lakefront.
The Vergennes center, on the other hand, is within roughly 15 minutes of all residents of the four surrounding towns. And Kuczynski said convenience is not the only factor.
“It’s an option not to provide a drop-off, but I think the residents of our district have come to appreciate having that option. And not everyone wants curbside collection or can afford it,” Kuczynski said. “It’s up to the town to decide what they want to do, but if there’s no drop-off option I think that it’s important for the district to look at a regional drop-off option.”
Panton’s Hall brought up other factors. He said that during snowstorms the mix of plowing and rural trash collection could be problematic, and added that he lives up a long dirt driveway and while he could probably get his trash and recycling to the curb in poor weather not everybody might be capable.
“You have to be on a hard road for Casella to pick your stuff up,” Hall said. “I don’t know how you do it when it’s minus 10.”
Kuczynski said one short-term solution could be as simple as finding a temporary site where “we could just park our collection vehicles.”
Another option she and Perry discussed is to have ACSWMD take over operation of the city center until a permanent solution can be found.
Kuczynski said she and other district officials are concerned about the traffic problems that at times have cropped up at the city’s Canal Street site. She also noted the center does not now accept hazardous materials, and that provisions would have to be added to accept food scraps.
“It’s already difficult for the Vergennes site with the queuing issue, so I think another site might be preferable. But it might be that we would assist the city of Vergennes. I just don’t know if we could get another hauler who might be interested in providing a temporary service at the same site. These are all things the city and the district are going to have to consider between now and December 31st,” Kuczynski said.
Perry, a former Vergennes representative to ACSWMD, said the district should not be too quick to write off the existing city site. He cited its familiarity to residents and pointed out it now operates eight hours a week, Wednesdays from 2 to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon — he said longer hours could reduce the lines of cars.
“People are used to going there, and, yes, sometimes the traffic does back up there,” Perry said. “But if it is run as a regional enter maybe the hours of operation would be different, and the traffic wouldn’t be so much of a problem.”
Grace in Waltham said his town come next year could even look to neighboring Weybridge as a collection point.
“The other towns have always been cooperative,” Grace said. “And we’re a small town.”
As for a new center, ACSWMD sent out a July 6 letter to all county towns seeking ideas for a site that could serve as a “Regional Drop-off Center Pilot Project.” Criteria included a visible location able to handle lines of traffic, and that was within 15 miles of the population in need of service.
Tellingly, one criterion read, “Preference for any municipalities that may now or in the future experience a significant reduction in services, such as the closing of a municipally operated Drop-Off.”
Kuczynski acknowledged solving northwestern Addison County’s looming problem has become an ACSWMD priority.
“If Vergennes closes its drop-off, I think that would be an area of focus for us,” she said.
Ferrisburgh’s representative to the ACSWMD board, Steve Huffaker, told the Ferrisburgh selectboard he does not foresee the city’s center remaining open.
“I think it’s going to be gone. They can’t afford it,” Huffaker said.
He then outlined the larger problem to the selectboard.
“We’ll be fine until the end of the year,” Huffaker said. “There’s a whole dilemma of, ‘Then what?’
Kuczynski said ACSWMD has had no response to its letter in the month since it went out. Huffaker hopes to change that: Last week he recommended that Ferrisburgh selectboard members send a letter to ACSWMD and offer up the 34.91-acre town-owned parcel at the junction of Routes 7 and 22A.
“It looks to me like a great location,” Huffaker told the board, citing the easy traffic access and central location.
Huffaker told the selectboard ACSWMD was in a good financial position to make a purchase, something Kuczynski confirmed later last week. 
At an earlier meeting without Huffaker present the board had been skeptical, but members were interested last week. Selectboard Chairman Rick Ebel said the board would discuss with its broker whether the proposed use could pass regulatory muster, and then make a decision at its next meeting whether to contact ACSWMD.
The local zoning on the parcel appears favorable: Among the listed permitted conditional uses for the site are “Community facility,” “Freight or trucking terminals,” “Storage trailer,” and “State or community owned and operated institutions and facilities.”
However, as Selectman Steve Gutowski noted, regional planning and Act 250 officials did not smile on automobile dealer Tom Denecker’s proposal for a dealership on the site four years ago, and there are no guarantees they would favor an ACSWMD proposal.
Some also consider the parcel to be part of the “northern gateway” to Vergennes, but Perry said he would not necessarily object to a trash and recycling drop-off center on the site. The question would be its visibility from the state highways, the mayor said.
“I guess it depends on where it is located on that parcel,” Perry said. “If it is set back on the parcel I don’t think that would be a problem.”
In the meantime Kuczynski believes one of the underlying problems is not going away: The market for recycled materials is continuing to weaken, thus affecting recycling costs.
“It’s pretty certain the recycling rates are going up in 2019, and we’re looking at that in developing our end-of-the year budget for 2019,” she said.
 Perry said he hopes ACSWMD will take an active role in raising awareness in the five communities on the need to work on finding a long-term answer to trash and recycling disposal in their back yards.  
 “I hope that they continue to meet with some of the other towns so we can move on and have a discussion about what we’re going to do,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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