Falmouth Board of Health Amends Rates for Commercial Trash Haulers
By: Elise R. Hugus
Falmouth Board of Health voted to amend its refuse regulation last night, bringing a six-month controversy over where commercial waste haulers can bring their loads to a close.
Following the resignation of its chairman, James A. Vieira, two weeks ago, the board held a hearing on the matter in order to decide whether to enforce the regulation, change it, or revoke it.
The 19-year-old refuse regulation mandates flow control, a mechanism by which the Upper Cape Regional Transfer Station is ensured the minimum tonnage it needs to fulfill the Upper Cape towns’ contracts with the SEMASS waste-to-energy incinerator in Rochester and Massachusetts Coastal Railroad, which hauls the waste to SEMASS.
Representatives of the Falmouth business community and Falmouth Solid Waste Advisory Committee filled every seat in the civil defense room at Falmouth Town Hall, squeezing in among the voting booths set up for today’s election, in order to make their concerns known to the board.
After debating the merits of a four-part motion proposed by Town Counsel Frank K. Duffy Jr., the board decided to simply amend the existing regulation to offer municipal waste disposal rates to commercial haulers that bring their loads to the transfer station.
Under this amendment, proposed by board member George R. Heufelder, the haulers would also be charged a compensation fee to cover what they would normally also pay to the railroad.
“This will allow us to recover the fees, and still allow [haulers] to go elsewhere with the trash,” Mr. Heufelder said.
The board indicated this fee would start at the current rate of $9.19 per ton, with an additional 4 percent increase per ton each year.
The town’s residential trash hauler, Allied Waste, currently pays $37 per ton to dispose of residential trash at the transfer station, in addition to the railroad fee and a $8.81 overhead fee. Commercial haulers pay closer to $90 per ton to dispose of trash at the transfer station.
According to Mr. Duffy, whose opinion has been sought by the board numerous times since the controversy began to dominate board of health hearings, it is legal for the town to offer the $37 per ton rate to commercial haulers in order to meet its annual minimum tonnage obligation to SEMASS.
Under its contract with SEMASS, Falmouth is responsible for bringing 18,500 tons of waste to the transfer station each year.
Due to the decrease in tonnage that commercial haulers brought to the transfer station in recent years, coupled with decreasing residential trash disposal, Falmouth faces shortfalls in its contractual obligations.
According to the solid waste committee, Falmouth paid more than $100,000 in penalties, tipping, and railroad fees for services that it did not use last year, and is set to pay up to $500,000 by the time the SEMASS contract expires in 2014.
Almost all commercial haulers licensed in Falmouth started bringing their waste to the transfer station over the summer, as is required in their licensing contract. But Carl F. Cavossa Jr., owner of Cavossa Disposal, said it would take two years for his business to comply, citing contractual obligations with businesses and the landfill operated by the Town of Bourne.
Board member John B. Waterbury said he was frustrated by the issue, and suggested that the board simply enforce the regulation as it stands.
“This board made a good faith effort to get a compromise to get us there. That fell apart. Our job is simply to say we have a regulation. It should be enforced,” said Mr. Waterbury.
A fiscal or public health issue?
Though Mr. Waterbury’s comments drew heat from the audience, there was one point on which both Mr. Cavossa’s supporters and the board agreed: financial issues do not have a place on the board of health.
“This board is now in a position of collecting fees from haulers. This isn’t public health. This is bad management,” said Mr. Cavossa.
Mr. Cavossa had originally proposed that haulers be charged the railroad fee if they took their trash to another facility, but he expressed displeasure with Mr. Heufelder’s original proposal to also include transfer station overhead fees in the compensation charge.
“Somebody’s playing back-door politics,” he said. “Why should I be paying for fuel and labor at the transfer station?”
Former selectman Kevin E. Murphy, who owns a restaurant in Woods Hole, told the board it was “being manipulated.”
“Are we looking to punish somebody or come up with a solution?” he asked, suggesting that the board simply charge haulers who do not use the transfer station the cost of the unused train hauling fee. “Are you making a motion to pay for the railroad or something else?”
Bryan Anderson, owner of Teaticket Market in Falmouth and Andy’s Market in Mashpee, said he was concerned that enforcing the regulation would increase his trash disposal fees.
“Where are these fees going to land? On the municipality or the private sector?” he asked. “Don’t make our fees increase. We’ll have to pass that on to the customer. Let’s go into this in a more efficient way to take care of our rubbish.”
Daren J. McDonald, president of Clover Paving, was more blunt. “Throw it out. What are you going to do next? Tell [Mr. Cavossa] where to buy his gas and tires?” he said.
Daniel H. Shearer, a member of solid waste committee, said there are many fees in Falmouth that people do not enjoy paying, but they are imposed for a reason.
“It’s a contract we’ve got to live with. If you don’t like something, work to have it changed,” he said.
“That’s why we’re here,” retorted Mr. Cavossa.
"A whole new world"
Greg Crowley, of Cavossa Disposal, said that 20 years ago, when the transfer station was built, the waste disposal landscape was much different.
“It’s a whole new world now. [Route 495] is there now. The building is paid for,” he said. “I ask that you revise the regulation with today’s environment in mind.”
Falmouth Health Agent David W. Carignan noted that if the board accepted Mr. Heufelder’s amendment, the town would need a way to determine how much trash was being hauled from Falmouth in order to bill haulers for missing railroad fees.
“We need to know how much they’re hauling... in order for it all to be equal,” Mr. Carignan said.
After some discussion about who should be responsible for setting the compensation fee, Mr. Heufelder asked his fellow board members if they would like to set the fee as equal to the railroad fee.
“If we say that, I feel we’d be close to the spirit of the meeting we had two weeks ago, which everyone was pretty happy with,” he said.
The board voted unanimously to direct Mr. Carignan to work with town counsel to draft this amendment. The board will review and vote on the amendment at its next meeting on November 22, at which point the board will resume enforcement of the regulation.
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