Waste District must dissolve, skeletonize or reinvent

Dec 4, 2019

For 45 years, the Carver Marion Wareham Regional Refuse Disposal District has served its member towns and Rochester. But as 2019 comes to a close, the District’s future remains up in the air, with one town starting negotiations to leave and the others struggling to figure out how to proceed.

The district’s former Director, Ray Pickles, is in court for financial mismanagement, and the end of a contract with Covanta SEMASS at the end of 2020, also makes the district’s next steps unclear.

As officials debate the district’s future, here’s a look at how things got to where they are — and where they may be going.

The district was created in 1975, when the three towns banded together to contract with SEMASS waste-to-energy plant in Rochester to dispose of waste from all three towns for free in return for allowing SEMASS to fill up the Carver landfill with ash.

In January of last year, the district fired Pickles, who had served as director for all of its 45 year history. A new director, Jeffrey Osuch, started almost exactly with the new year, and began to organize the district and clarify its finances.

Then Marion took the first of two votes to leave the district at its Fall Town Meeting,  leaving Carver and Wareham to discuss whether to stick together, or start disposing of trash alone.

The district has also discussed “skeletonizing,” or ceasing its day-to-day operations and just keeping the three towns together for insurance and legal liabilities.

If the waste district does continue operation it will need to look at reworking its charter,  as committe members have noted that the way that it runs today does not match what its charter says. 

With the fate of the waste district still  undetermined, Sippican Week compiled a list of questions and answers to help explain what potential changes could mean for residents of the towns involved:

What’s going on with Pickles’ trial?

The final pre-trial hearing is Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. and the trial will Feb. 24 at 9 a.m. at the Plymouth District Court.

How does the district help Rochester?

While not a member town, Rochester residents are able to use the transfer stations operated by the waste district for free.

What happens with the transfer stations if the waste district disappears?

The Town of Marion owns the land of the Benson Brook Transfer Station, and would get it back if the district disappears. The town would have to buy equipment, and fund operations to run it without the district.

The district owns the transfer station on Route 28. Member towns could buy the station, but is still unclear what would happen to it without the district to operate it. No one has yet expressed interest in buying it.

Why does Marion need a transfer station if it has automated pickup? Do people actually use it? 

The transfer station is for anyone who has more than the one barrel that Waste Management will pick up but does not want to buy a second barrel. Some people also use the transfer station if they do not want their trash to sit for a week. About 400 people use the Benson Brook Transfer Station each week, on average.

Is the district going to close Benson Brook Transfer Station?

According to Executive Director Jeffrey Osuch, the district will keep the transfer station open through 2020. Marion has said it will take over running the transfer station after that if need be, but it is still unclear who will be running it in January 2021.

Why did the sticker fee keep changing?

The Waste Disposal District thought that it might be responsible for all of the district’s operating costs after December 2020, so it proposed a much higher sticker fee, at one point approving a $125 payment to cover operating costs. The district then checked with its lawyer, and learned that it does not have the authority to set sticker fees. Only the towns do. The responsibility for setting sticker fees then went back to the towns. Marion and Rochester have set their sticker fees at $40.

I’m a Marion resident who uses the transfer station all the time. How would leaving the waste district impact me?

Marion Town Administrator Jay McGrail said this is a tough question due to the uncertainty about Benson Brook. The Town of Marion’s goal is to make sure that Benson Brook is open whether it’s run by the town or the district. If the town does take over the operation of Benson Brook, it will be funded by sticker fees from those who choose to use it, which will likely result in a higher sticker fee.

I’m a Wareham resident who uses the transfer station all the time. How would waste district changes impact me?

There are no clear answers at this time. It’s possible Carver will remain in the district and the two towns could operate the Rte. 28 transfer station, Wareham could run it alone, or the transfer station could close entirely.

I’m a Marion resident who doesn’t use the transfer station. How do the changes with Marion leaving impact me?

If the town ends up running the transfer station, it hopes there will be no financial impact to residents who do not use the transfer station. The goal is to have the sticker price cover operation costs with no increase to taxes.

I’m a Wareham resident who already pays someone to pick up my trash. How will changes impact me?

That’s not clear yet. Selectman Jim Munise pointed out that if the town no longer offers a transfer station, which is one of many possibilities after December 2020, private haulers would have a monopoly on waste disposal. Town Administrator Derek Sullivan said that comprehensive waste hauler regulations would be imposed.