Trash Wars: Waste Removal Companies Battle For Town Contracts
By BILL LEUKHARDT And MELISSA TRAYNOR
July 23, 2010
It may be trash to most folks, but to those in the waste business, people's garbage is a valuable commodity.
And that's why there's a bidding war growing for the estimated 750,000 tons of garbage that 70 towns and cities pay more than $51 million a year to burn at a trash-to-energy plant in Hartford.
The company that disposes of it will earn millions in fees. And the long-term service contracts that Hartford facility Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority has for its members' mountains of trash will expire at in mid-November 2012.
More bidding wars are on the horizon, with service contracts with the other regional trash-burning facilities in Connecticut coming due in the next few years. The end date for the 16 towns served by the Bristol Resource Recovery plant is not until 2014, but the preliminaries have already begun there.
"There's all sorts of conversations going on," said Jonathan Bilmes, executive director of the Bristol plant's operating committee. "Everyone is talking. They can't help but talk."
Hence this gold rush of sorts with CRRA, other regional trash authorities and private vendors are wooing towns across the state for their trash.
"I just got another e-mail today from someone who says they have some process that can save us a lot of money," said Dan Colleluori, supervisor of Solid Waste and Recycling in Stamford. "I haven't had time to read it yet. But we are looking for the best thing for the city."
Last year, the most cost-effective route for Stamford was a vendor that shrink-wrapped the city's trash to keep it compact and easily portable and trucked it to a landfill in Ohio. This year, the city's waste is loaded on trucks and brought to a trash-to-energy plant in Bridgeport.
The courting is getting hotter. CRRA recently mailed draft proposals to client towns, trying to entice them to sign on by January.
Letters that CRRA President Thomas D. Kirk is sending promise trash and recycling services at a net cost to communities that continue contracts with CRRA. The authority already has contracts with private haulers for 400,000 tons of garbage yearly, about half of its operating goal of 800,000 tons.
The current CRRA charge is $69 a ton, but the new contract will likely be less, CRRA spokesman Paul Nonnemacher said last week.
"We think we can save several dollars a ton," he said, although a final price is still being worked out. "What I can say is that we already have some contracts with private haulers not to exceed a price of $63 a ton in 2013. That offers some indication where we're headed. We hope everyone takes a good look at our offers, which we think provide communities with the best situation."
"There's a lot of players out there now," said Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments. "There's CRRA, there's four, five, six other vendors."
One new player is the Central Connecticut Solid Waste Authority, a consortium of 16 Capitol Region towns banding together in hopes of negotiating lower trash disposal prices.
"We've felt that the amount of money that municipalities will be spending over the next 20 years for solid waste disposal is a significant portion of their budgets — millions of dollars for communities," said Richard Barlow, the authority's interim chairman. Barlow, a retired state Department of Environmental Protection official, is first selectman of Canton.
East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey, a key player in the push to create the authority, said by banding together, communities will have more control with CRRA and other suitors.
Renegotiating with CRRA is definitely an option, Barlow said.
Towns in the Litchfield Hills and the Northwest corner of the state are exploring if they should participate in the new authority, or if they should form a similar authority to work in concert with it, Barlow said.
Not every town or city that has a contract clock ticking with CRRA is joining the new authority.
Ronald Van Winkle, town manager of West Hartford, which spends $4 million a year for trash and recycling, said he's not sure what the advantage would be for the town to sign up, as he believes towns could negotiate without creating an authority.
As for the state, which regulates solid waste disposal, the DEP is most concerned about the efficiency and regulatory compliance of any facility that handles recycled materials and burns garbage to convert it to energy, DEP spokesman Dennis Schain said.
"We're sort of worried about the bottom line — safe disposal," he said. "How the towns accomplish that is up to them."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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