Committee moves forward on new trash transfer station

December 15, 2020

The city is approaching a 10-year contract to operate the Grotto Avenue transfer station. Waste Connections would build a new facility to replace the existing one.

PAWTUCKET – After a failed offer from Councilor Tim Rudd to seek another legal opinion on a new 10-year lease for the city’s garbage disposal station, the city council’s real estate subcommittee gave initial approval for the deal last week.

The agreement, which will go to the full advisory board on December 21, provides that the existing operator Waste Connections Inc., which was the only bidder in an application process, will build a new transfer station at the existing location on Grotto Avenue and pay the costs paid -front costs with the understanding that the city would pay back the over $ 2 million cost over 10 years and then own the facility.

Since early 2019, public works director Eric Earls said at the December 10 meeting, city officials have achieved broad consensus that the transfer station should remain open, despite some in their neighborhood calling for it to close. Capping it would mean millions in additional costs for direct transport of garbage and the loss of convenience for city dwellers to dispose of bulky items, he said.

All litter, recycling and gardening waste would continue to make its way to the transfer station, and residents could continue to bring unwanted items into the facility for the next decade.

A committee made up of councilors Terry Mercer and Tim Rudd has been negotiating with WCI since February.
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Rudd made an offer at the city council meeting on December 9th to obtain a legal opinion from attorney Joel Votolato on the validity of the contract within 48 hours. The city council, however, voted 6-3 with councilors John Barry III and Meghan against this request. Kallman supported it with Rudd.

Mercer said he saw no reason to postpone the meeting and dismissed claims by Kallman and others that it was a hasty process. Working with Rudd and the rest of the committee, Mercer said, they “went out of the way” to address numerous concerns, including Pat St. Germain of Fairlawn Against Crime Together (FACT).

Some of the items requested by St. Germain, such as setting up a community fund to help Fairlawn cope with the impact of the transfer station, were simply not feasible as they were not part of the tendering process and the city cannot just ask the operator for that Contributing funds, Mercer said. He added that no matter what, if complaints are responded to, the city will be on the hook, including additional sweeping, litter removal, rodent mitigation and neighborhood traffic calming.

Additional details will be set out in an operations and maintenance contract that must be negotiated and then approved by the Rhode Island environmental management department, Mercer said.

Mercer said legal opinions from Votolato should be reserved for those rare occasions where the council has serious legal disagreements with the administration, which was not the case here with the “simple documents” listing the lease.

Rudd had read a long letter from St. Germain in which she described the lease as “unacceptable” and said its vagueness did little to protect residents. There are apparently no regulations to protect the quality of life with this “poorly located” garbage disposal station, and neither the city nor the residents have a voice for their operations. She called it an “overly generous” and “toothless” arrangement that, among other things, requires written notice to enter the property.

St. Germain also criticized what it sees as loopholes that allow the potential for expansion of usage in the future, as WCI may use nearby rails to move trash while the state looks for answers on a fast-filling landfill said St. Germain. She also called for a stricter language for the daily limit of 650 tons.

St. Germain said it was “hubris” of the council not to consult with its own lawyer. She later called council members for body language at the Zoom meeting when her letter was read into the file.

Kallman reiterated some residents when they demanded that the proposed lease be postponed until 2021 to be “carefully treated” by a new council, agreeing that now, amid the pandemic and holidays, it is premature to agree to do.

At the property assembly a day later, Alderman Albert Vitali Jr. asked and received clarification that additional structures for new operations would have to go through the urban development process. Chief of Staff Dylan Zelazo also made it clear that most of the land here is not buildable and that the city continues to look for solutions to limit and possible use of renewable energy.

Vitali said the matter has been under review for some time and he trusts everyone involved that they have reached a “rather ironic” deal that will benefit taxpayers and the city as a whole. There is obviously a neighborhood that would prefer to see it elsewhere, he said, but this facility has been here for more than 60 years.

Vitali noted that the city council had previously shot down the proposal for Concord Street to make sure the train station did not affect the neighborhood more. He added that the shutdown would have a huge ripple effect, including inflated tax rates that residents cannot afford and the loss of convenient garbage disposal options.

Councilor John Barry III, who had been on Rudd’s side the day before that it wouldn’t hurt to get a second legal opinion, called it a “standard lease” last Thursday with a lot of good work. In a perfect world, the city would shut down the transfer station, he said, and he feels for the residents who are affected by its operation, but the city really has no choice but to approve the lease. He said residents’ concerns should not be ignored in the operating agreement but also suggested that residents are unlikely to be appeased no matter what. Barry said he would like to see a mechanism whereby residents can meet with officials twice a year about the operation of the facility.

Further addressing the hasty trial allegations, Mercer said the city received a surprise notice of violations by the state in August, despite the state knowing officials were working to resolve the many problems at the facility. The response that came back from the Rhode Island environmental management department was that officials can’t allow this to wear off, Mercer said, but would not pursue penalties if a path forward was worked out by Jan. 1.

Tom Sabin and Erica Scialdone, both of 105 Fairview Ave., called for a delay in the implementation of the agreement, saying there were numerous problems with the contract, including legitimate concerns about its possible expansion to rail in the future. They also said there are numerous instances where the city takes far too much liability for issues, including fire damage and DEM compliance. Scialdone said the agreement was never intended to accommodate Fairlawn residents and should not be rushed before a new council is sworn in.

Rudd said he hadn’t tried to delay the deal but felt a review by someone other than the lawyer who works for the administration would be appropriate, adding that the city was not adequately protected in a 2012 agreement In a conversation with Council Chairman David Moran, he mentioned the Council Chairman who had previously fought against a similar body in his district. Moran questioned that, saying it “doesn’t matter if I want one there or not”.

Based on feedback from Rudd, two minor changes were made to the lease, including reinstating a specific language in the 650 tonne cap and adding the required approval from the council for five year extensions at the end of the ten year payback period.

Mercer said he understand the Fairlawn residents are not happy, but said he doubts they ever will be. He said Rudd was a staunch advocate for these people and they had raised as many concerns as possible. This is a fair and solid agreement that has some penalties and increased oversight for better facilities and operations, he said.

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