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Low turnout to discuss plans for Elmira transfer station

transfer station

Confessing to being underwhelmed by the turnout at a public meeting Tuesday night, Woolwich councillors will now decide if they’ll push ahead with efforts to save the waste transfer station in Elmira.

Fewer than a dozen residents showed up for a special session in the community room at the WMC to hear about options for keeping the facility open.

While some private operators have expressed interest in running the facility as a business venture, the township has to decide if it wants to move to a formal process, issuing a request for proposals (RFP) prior to the transfer station closing at the end of May. If that’s the case, some arrangement may have to be made for interim operation of the site, as an official handover from the Region of Waterloo to a private company could take two to four years to complete given the regulatory hurdles.

Even at the greatly reduced service level, the region says the facility costs about $110,000 a year to run. The township could look at paying those costs while a private deal is worked out or perhaps a private operator would take on the costs in the interim.

As it now stands, the current level of service – the site is open briefly two Saturdays a month – isn’t viable as a private enterprise, said David Brenneman, the township’s chief administrative officer.

“As a business, they couldn’t make money as it is now.”

In the long run, a private operator would need to expand the business beyond even what went on at the site when it was open most days, he added.

Where the transfer station took in some 1,000 tonnes of trash in 2014, that number would have to be at least 10,000 tonnes to make sense, he said of preliminary talks with potential operators. That would mean collecting waste from a much larger area and opening it up to commercial and industrial customers. Higher costs – a minimum of $10 per load from residential customers, and $40 to $50 a tonne for commercial users – would also be likely.

One of the potential candidates for taking over the facility estimated that volume would require 20-25 medium trucks and 25-35 small trucks bringing in trash every day. A large transport truck full of refuse would leave the site daily, likely bound for a jurisdiction with much lower tipping fees than offered at the region’s landfill site on Erb Street in Waterloo.

The higher volumes and truck traffic were points of contention for some of those who showed up Tuesday night.

“There’s nobody in town that’s going to want that,” said Elmira resident Marty Merlihan. “I don’t think it’s going to fly anywhere.”

Frank Rattasid, owner of 86 Auto and Metal Recyclers in Elmira, had a long list of concerns and questions. He noted that in order to keep the transfer station, it appears the township will have to take in large streams of garbage to be sorted in Elmira before being trucked out again.

“Will the people of Woolwich be willing to take in 9,000 tonnes of other people’s waste?” he asked of the increase needed to bring the 1,000 tonnes of local trash up to the 10,000 tonne threshold.

Eric Schwindt, who lives just north of Elmira, suggested that the region’s plan to expand curbside garbage collection in the rural areas is an expensive proposition, arguing it might be cheaper and more convenient to simply keep the transfer station open.

While the region will be expanding some services when a new contract for waste collection begins in March 2017, it will be reducing actual collection at the curb for those currently receiving the service – a four-bag limit every other week instead of three bags weekly.

In that light, Woolwich is looking for public input on the next steps in its bid to keep the transfer station going. This week’s meeting wasn’t particularly helpful.

“I’m underwhelmed with the turnout. I was hoping to hear from more people,” said Coun. Patrick Merlihan, noting the issue was the most common one raised during the 2014 municipal election.

He nixed the idea of $110,000 a year to operate the facility as now configured, saying the current two-days-a-month schedule isn’t viable or useful. The Ward 1 councillor suggested the region overinflated the costs to help bolster its determination to close the transfer station, which it has already done in the other townships.

Council is expected to discuss the issue again Mar. 1.

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