Trash District Agrees to Test New Program


After a year of negotiating details to build a regional composting facility on the Island, the Martha's Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District committee voted last night to ship waste to a composting facility in Marlboro on a trial basis.

"This is to ascertain whether it's logistically feasible to ship off," said Richard Skidmore, chairman of the district committee.

Committee members have been passing numbers and concerns across the negotiation table for more than a year with Waste Options, the Rhode Island-based composting company that operates a facility on Nantucket. The most recent proposed contract Waste Options presented to the district committee included building an Island composting facility that could handle the average monthly waste produced by Edgartown, West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah, the four district towns. When the towns exceed that average of 35 to 40 tons per month, Waste Options would then ship the extra waste to their plant in Marlboro for composting.

The original Waste Options bid provided for a facility large enough to handle even the peak months of July and August, when the district produces as much as 80 tons each month.

"The capital costs [for the larger facility] would increase our costs [per ton]," said Charles Noonan, district manager.

The draft contract offers the district a price of $97 per ton after the facility is complete. A $10 to $12 electrical cost would be added as well as a few dollars for a scale attendant, bringing the total cost to just over $110 per ton. Waste Options would ship the excess waste to Marlboro for a cost of $110 per ton. But labor and administrative costs to load the waste before shipping would tack on an additional $25 per ton.

The district currently pays $136 per ton to ship their waste off-Island to SEMASS. Steamship Authority transportation and SEMASS processing charges account for the total cost.

With the district's current bottom line nearly matching the bid to ship the extra waste off to Marlboro for composting, district committee members are second-guessing the potential contract with Waste Options.

"One option right now is rebidding," Mr. Skidmore said.

District committee members have been committed to the idea of composting for nine years, Mr. Skidmore said. Cost, environmental concerns and traffic congestion on the SSA led them to call for bids from composting companies last year.

"The environmental angle has always been a goal of the district, but there is the real-world concern of money. The lower the cost, the more attractive it is," Mr. Skidmore said.

But with the Waste Options proposal to ship excess waste off the Island, district hopes fade for the prospect of eliminating nearly 400 trucks on the Steamship Authority each year by having a full-capacity composting facility on the Island.

"Shipping off to Marlboro doesn't alleviate all of the traffic concerns," Mr. Noonan said, although he noted the total volume would decrease.

In the draft contract, Waste Options does not offer any direct incentive for increased tonnage, undermining the original lure of bringing all Island towns to the composting facility. Costs for labor would, however, decrease when spread across more tonnage.

Currently, the towns of Tisbury and Oak Bluffs, which are not a part of the district, are reviewing the Waste Options proposal. The district has invited them to take part in the composting plan.

"Oak Bluffs's decision would determine our taking part, but so far, our position is supportive," said Fred LaPiana, director of the Tisbury Department of Public Works. Tisbury and Oak Bluffs could join as customers of the district for composting purposes while continuing to run recycling programs at their shared landfill.

"The numbers we see in the proposal make all kinds of sense," Mr. LaPiana said. Currently, Tisbury pays about $150 a ton to ship waste off-Island through a contract with Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI).

Mr. LaPiana said he imagines Oak Bluffs and Tisbury would become customers of the district together or not at all. They will meet to discuss the proposal in the weeks to come.

Mr. Skidmore said the trial period to ship a few truckloads of waste to Marlboro will likely commence after Thanksgiving.

"We will be looking at turnaround time at the facility and boat scheduling," Mr. Skidmore said.

"We're making no commitment to the future right now," he added.