A new report prepared for the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District recommends that Tisbury and Oak Bluffs rejoin the district after a 15-year absence and suggests that the Island consider a larger, more efficient regional transfer station and overhaul its recycling programs.
“Solid waste management systems on Martha’s Vineyard appear to be fractured in nature, with little consistency in the management and separation of the solid waste,” said the report prepared by the consulting firm of Environmental Partners. “If the goal is to optimize recycling, promote environmentally sound practices, and minimize off-Island shipment and disposal costs, then consolidation would appear to offer solutions at a number of levels.”
The regional refuse district currently includes Edgartown, West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah. It operates a central transfer station facility on a 23-acre site off the West Tisbury Road across from the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. The facility was built in 2000 and includes a weigh station, a prefabricated metal transfer station building for commercial haulers and a series of roll-offs for vehicles.
The facility also serves as Edgartown’s local drop-off station. Separate drop-off stations are located in Aquinnah, Chilmark and West Tisbury.
Both Oak Bluffs and Tisbury withdrew from the district in 1993 to form a partnership for solid waste management that is governed by the joint solid waste advisory committee. Each town operates its own individual drop-off site, but also operates a joint transfer station at the site of the former Oak Bluffs landfill site.
The Oak Bluffs drop-off site is located adjacent to the transfer station and is managed by the town highway department, while the Tisbury station is located at the former landfill site off State Road and is managed by the town department of public works.
The 28-page report from Environmental Partners notes that the refuse district and the district in Oak Bluffs and Tisbury have been discussing the potential for consolidation for nearly two years. “There appears to be some consensus that cost savings can be gained, however a charter change would be required for the district to accept the towns of Tisbury and Oak Bluffs,” the report says.
The report concludes that the current system of two transfer stations is inefficient and would be vastly improved by a consolidated facility.
“[Both] transfer stations suffer from poor traffic patterns and insufficient space to efficiently handle all of the materials and traffic passing through them. The space limitations issues are compounded by the presence of only one scale at the each facility, over which so many vehicles must pass.”
The report goes on to recommend that a combined operation would create maximum efficiency and ease of operations. It concludes that only the 23-acre transfer station operated by the refuse district has the adequate space needed for an expanded facility. The report also takes note of an adjoining 11-acre parcel south of the site that would allow for some additional expansion if purchased.
The report finds that the Oak Bluffs transfer station is severely restricted on all sides and offers no room for expansion. Because of its existing buildings and paved surfaces, the site might be used for vehicle storage or as a material staging site, the report says.
The report also recommends that the current system of individual drop-off sites in each town be maintained.
“The rationale for constructing local drop-offs in each community was to maximize convenience for residents, to minimize travel costs and energy consumption and to [avoid] vehicle trips and traffic congestion at centralized facilities . . . that rationale for maintaining [facilities] in each site is as valid today, if not more-so. It is not surprising to learn that vehicle congestion and the mixing of residential and commercial vehicles are major concerns at the district and Oak Bluffs transfer stations,” the report says.
The final conclusion is that the Island recycling programs would be vastly improved by a single transfer station. With one recycling management system in place, there may be considerable opportunity for tighter and more consistent practices, higher recovery rates and greater cost savings.
Paul F. Gabriel, a principal for Environmental Partners who helped prepare the report, said there is a national trend toward the regionalization of refuse management and recycling. He said officials in three towns and cities along the South Shore — Quincy, Braintree and Weymouth — are now considering consolidating their recycling programs, and other municipalities across the state are doing the same.
Mr. Gabriel said consolidation here on the Vineyard has both economic and environmental advantages.
“It’s fairly evident that it is inefficient to operate two transfer stations and recycling programs in parallel and within several miles of each other. If you consolidate operations you can cut costs and elevate the economic profile of the district. It’s an opportunity for less spending and more leverage,” Mr. Gabriel said.
He said the report is likely the first step in what may be a long journey toward consolidation. He said there have been no discussions about costs or timetables for combining or expanding the district’s current transfer station.
But there are some signs of support for consolidation here.
“I think getting Oak Bluffs and Tisbury back into the district is likely — that seems to be the direction we’re going in,” said Oak Bluffs highway superintendent Richard Combra Jr. “There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, but consolidating our resources seems to be a common sense approach.”
Tisbury town administrator John Bugbee agreed. “It may not be long before both the current facilities are maxed out, and the cost for our waste management will increase exponentially. It’s probably a good idea to stay ahead of this problem instead of falling behind,” he said.
Edgartown health agent Matt Poole said he also supports consolidation, but warned that expanding the current district transfer station may be problematic. When the site was first chosen, he said, it needed approval from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission.
“I fully support getting all six towns back into the district — and frankly I think it’s a little absurd to have two transfer stations operating within a few miles of each another. But people should be aware that the current site [of the district transfer station] is very quirky. There is a long list of things you need to consider when you start talking about expanding [that site],” Mr. Poole said, adding:
“But if you think about it in terms of risk and reward; I think it’s a risk we need to take.”