PAWTUCKET — The City Council tonight will hold a special session to discuss the options facing the future of the Grotto Avenue transfer station.

A presentation on the transfer station is expected, followed by a discussion with members of the council, but no action is expected to be taken following the presentation and conversation. Additionally, a public input period is on the agenda for the start of the meeting at 6 p.m. inside the Council Chambers at City Hall.

District 6 Councilor Timothy P. Rudd Jr. outlined what he described as an opportunity to “find a middle ground on a lengthy, time consuming, and sensitive topic.” He said the administration of Mayor Donald R. Grebien has recently proposed two options for the future of the Grotto Avenue transfer station – to improve the site, bringing it up to code, while it continues to operate as a regional transfer station operated by a private company; and to close down the site and cap the land, while paying to direct haul trash and recyclables to the landfill in Johnston.

Rudd introduced two “alternative plans,” both of which would remove privatization from the equation and move away from the transfer station being operated as a regional facility, returning the station to being municipally-owned.

His first plan would be to immediately shut down operations at the transfer station, temporarily direct haul trash to the Johnston landfill, and immediately begin renovations and improvements at the Grotto Avenue site. The site would become municipally-operated with city workers assigned to the transfer station.

In this scenario, Rudd said that the city would issue a request for proposals for a third party to haul the city’s trash from Grotto Avenue to the landfill in Johnston. The council would then place a bond referendum on the ballot to cover the costs of renovations and improvements to the site.

Rudd cites what he calls numerous positives, from the city taking over the site to provide oversight, a reduction in the amount of trash at the facility from 450 tons daily to 150 tons per day, and a decrease in truck traffic.

Rudd’s second plan is similar to his first, but with the addition of utilizing remaining space with solar panels.

The Cadmus Group, a Massachusetts-based technical consulting group, is investigating the feasibility of using the Grotto Avenue transfer station site for solar energy generation, with a final report expected in early March. The report will outline two possible scenarios – one using the whole transfer station site for solar energy generation, and another for using the area on and around the landfill for solar energy generation while the transfer station remains in operation.

“My hope is that this proposal provides some common ground while offering a resolution,” Rudd wrote in the memo. “As a city we need to make sure that we are providing residents with services, especially if the residents will see a tax increase. I firmly believe that the city’s quality of life and its future is better served by moving away from the regional waste transfer facility model and moving back to a city-operated municipal waste transfer station.”

Rudd also said that it would be “fruitless and irresponsible” for the city to “invest one dime” at the Grotto Avenue facility if it involves keeping the current work model in place, saying privatization of the facility has “failed miserably.”

In response to Rudd, Grebien last Friday said the city is “committed to weighing all options that come out of this process with the council on their merits, and I appreciate your openness to considering solutions beyond simply closing the facility, which may or may not ultimately be the city’s best option.”

Grebien said that while the transfer station debate has been at times divisive, the administration and council “need to work together on finding the optimal solution.”

“This issue is an important one for this entire city and we need to work together to find an appropriate solution,” the mayor wrote. “We need to be steadfast and focus in on the facts. In 2011, the operation of the transfer station was outsourced in order to save the taxpayers of the city more than $1 million per year and allowed for tens of thousands of residential drop offs.”

Following the recession, and with a significant structural budgetary deficit, the services’ outsourcing was part of a package of changes the council and administration implemented to “secure stable financial ground without the constant threat of bankruptcy and state takeover,” Grebien said. This, he added, has saved the city’s taxpayers more than $7 million while maintaining existing service levels that the city could no longer afford to provide in-house.

Director of Administration Dylan M. Zelazo last November informed the council that it would cost $7.3 million, or $474.01 per household, to direct haul trash and recyclables to Johnston, while it would cost $8.3 million, or $504.38 per home, for site upgrades and in-house operation. In both scenarios, it would cost $4.5 million to cap and close the land.

A report released last year from engineering firm Fuss & O’Neill estimated keeping the Grotto Avenue transfer station operational at between $740,000 and $1.47 million for short-term operations, and ranging from $1.27 million to $2.52 million for longer-term operations.

Follow Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette

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