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PAWTUCKET â€” Despite some ongoing protests from residents, city officials are moving forward with plans to privatize the city's waste transfer station on Grotto Avenue.
At a special meeting last week, the City Council voted unanimously to approve a five-year contract with Waste Haulers (WHM Holdings, LLC) to operate the Blackstone Valley Regional Transfer Station. Under the terms of the contract, the company will lease the city-owned facility for $10,000 a month and also make payments to the city based on tonnage.
The contract awaits signing by Mayor Donald Grebien, but it is expected to be finalized shortly, with Waste Haulers taking over operations by early next month. Grebien has been lobbying for the privatization, saying that it will mean an additional $750,000 to the city annually between the money from the lease and the savings of about $210,000 in operating costs being spent now.
Under the terms of the agreement with Waste Haulers, the company would be limited to accept 450 tons of waste per day, but could expand beyond that as long as it builds an access road off Concord Street. Once the access road is in place, the city could expand the license to allow for up to 2,000 tons of waste a day. However, any such expansion would require an additional public hearing and approval by the City Council.
About a dozen residents turned out to last Thursday's public hearing on the proposed plan, and the council voted later that night to authorize Grebien to go ahead with the contract. Thursday's meeting was a far cry from an informational session held on April 9 at the Nathanael Greene Elementary School, where about 30 neighbors showed up. Many expressed concerns about truck traffic, noise, odors and the effect on property values from the privatization and potential expansion, and some voiced outright opposition.
City Council President David Moran, who had attended the first meeting on the proposal, said there were far less people at the second meeting. He said he felt that the issues the neighbors had raised had primarily been addressed, including concerns about the devaluation of property in the immediate area. To that end, he said the council had promised to have a private company evaluate the property values should an expansion occur, and then voted to support this action at Wednesday's council meeting.
Moran said he liked the way the process was handled and was satisfied that anyone who wanted to speak on the issue had been heard. He pointed out that for any expansion to 2,000 tons per day to occur, the whole public hearing and approval process would have to start over. He said he supported the privatization plan primarily because of its financial benefit to the cash-strapped city, and also because it should help improve the unsightly industrial area as a whole. â€śThat $750,000 a year will help with taxes and to reduce the deficit,â€ť Moran said.
Councilor James Chadwick, who represents District 6, said that while there are still some concerns on the part of residents, he thinks the privatization plan will greatly benefit the city as a whole. He said he felt â€ścomfortableâ€ť with the contract as it has been presented.
Chadwick said that in response to concerns about property values, he and the mayor drafted a resolution requiring that an independent study be done of the effect that a cap of 2,000 tons of waste per day at the transfer station would have on the value of surrounding properties.
â€śWe're working to stay on top of the issues. I fully expect we can keep the promises we made to residents,â€ť Chadwick stated.
Grebien said that the outsourcing of city transfer operations â€świll unlock the potential of a long-underutilized city asset and turn it into a significant revenue enhancer for the city while greatly improving operations there.â€ť He added that city resident permit holders will retain their disposal rights at the transfer station.
Grebien noted that the agreement with the vendor, which was chosen in an open competitive process, will ensure that the operation is not expanded beyond current capacity with proper safeguards and approvals, including state environmental and city reviews.
The mayor said that in two public meetings, he and his administrative team have â€ślistened closely to the concerns of residents, including those who live nearby. We will continue to respond to those concerns.â€ť He added that truck traffic will not be allowed on any local roads that are not already used now, and that a proposed access road, if built, would further divert truck traffic from local roads.
The overall result of the privatization, Grebien said, will be â€śa cleaner, safer and much more modern facility and a significant financial benefit to the city.â€ť