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Windham Solid Waste Management District executive director Bob Spencer walks past bales of cans waiting to be recycled at the district Materials Recovery Facility in Brattleboro.


Will the MRF stay open?

Some towns in solid waste district want to keep regional recycling facility up and running

BRATTLEBORO—With officials in some towns scrambling to figure out what to do with their residents’ recyclables after June 30, there’s a movement to keep the Windham Solid Waste Management District’s Materials Recovery Facility open.

During the District’s Dec. 9 Board of Supervisors meeting, members voted to close the MRF at the end of Fiscal Year 2017. The MRF is the facility where recyclables are collected, sorted, and stored while awaiting shipping to the materials market.

Board members cited the high cost of maintaining the aging facility, especially in an era of declining revenue from recyclables, as the major reason for shuttering it.

But, the vote was far from unanimous, and some representatives noted that if every town got only one vote, the motion to close the MRF would have failed. Because Brattleboro is the facility’s host-town, and it has a higher population than the other member-towns, the district’s charter gives it six votes.

“Brattleboro got what it wanted,” some representatives said at the Dec. 9 meeting.

Mulling next steps

Since the vote, town officials have tried figuring out what to do next, and a few member-towns discussed the matter at Town Meeting. Some town managers and selectboards report getting discouraging news from private haulers: They will charge more than the District to maintain municipal recycling bins.

At the March 9 District Board of Supervisors meeting, Wilmington representative Merrill Mundell asked his colleagues to raise their hands if their towns’ selectboards budgeted money to continue municipal recycling for Fiscal Year 2018.

Mundell assured WSWMD board members he wasn’t looking for a commitment; he just wanted to gauge which towns might be interested in keeping the MRF open.

After representatives from nine towns raised their hands, Readsboro’s alternate representative, Jim Damato, said his town might be interested. Dummerston Selectboard Chair Zeke Goodband also offered a “maybe.”

“Many residents want it,” Goodband said, but his board would have to call a Special Town Meeting on the issue before signing on.

“We should put some numbers together,” said Mundell, who encouraged interested parties to communicate and form a MRF consortium “pretty quickly.”

Seeing the positive response, Damato did act quickly, making a motion to reverse the decision to close the MRF. In Damato’s proposal, member-towns could use the MRF on a fee-for-service basis, with towns’ participation strictly voluntary.

“I’m hoping this clears the way for towns that want the MRF to work together and explore the idea and run the numbers,” said Damato.

“The spirit of my motion was, Let’s get this discussion on the floor,” Damato said, “rather than assuming there’s no interest in keeping the MRF open."

A range of views

If the movement to keep the MRF open is successful, “we’d need money for capital improvements,” said District Executive Director Bob Spencer.

Board of Supervisors Chair, and Jamaica’s representative, Lou Bruso, expressed his skepticism.

Bruso questioned the fairness of asking all member-towns, even those opting out of the proposed MRF, to pay the salaries of the District’s administrative staff when they are doing MRF-related work.

“We decided long ago we wouldn’t allot the staff” on a per-town basis, Westminster representative Jan Ameen responded. She noted all member-towns pay the staff whether they are working on projects for one town or the District as a whole. “We need the staff regardless of whether an MRF consortium forms or not,” Ameen said.

Spencer told the representatives the District needs a commitment from its member-towns Selectboards by April “because we have to get contracts signed.”

Although the motion failed, with 12 “no” votes coming from Brattleboro, Dover, Dummerston, Guilford, Jamaica, Vernon, and Whitingham, eight towns voted to keep the MRF open.

Rebecca Stone, Readsboro’s Town Adminstrator, said her town’s Selectboard wants the Board of Supervisors to reconsider the vote to close the MRF.

The original vote “was close,” she said, noting Readsboro’s representative, Gig Zboray, voted to close the MRF at the Dec. 9 meeting, “but was directed [by the Selectboard] to vote to keep the MRF open,” Stone said.

“Maybe in 12 months we’ll realize closing the MRF wasn’t the thing to do,” she said.

“It’s pretty clear there’s a movement to keep the MRF open. Let’s see what it takes,” said Newfane’s representative, Johanna Gardner.

“Let’s get the numbers together and take a look,” Mundell said. “It’s not rocket science. You’ll know quickly if the numbers work.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #399 (Wednesday, March 15, 2017).

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