County officials eye ways to take out trash

FONDA – The long-controversial MOSA is soon coming to an end, leaving Montgomery County officials with the problem of how to dispose of their garbage.

Since 1989, the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority has managed trash disposal for its three component counties. MOSA’s job has been to operate five transfer stations in the three counties, arrange for about 117,000 tons of garbage to be hauled to landfills in the western part of New York state, and maintain two closed landfills, one of them in Montgomery County.

However, officials in Montgomery County complained for years about how much it costs for MOSA to take care of garbage.

Now that MOSA’s service agreement with the three counties is ending April 30, all of those counties are taking steps to dissolve MOSA.

The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution on Oct. 22 to request the state Legislature end MOSA.

Attorney Michael Cahill, of the lawfirm Germano and Cahill, was hired by the county to develop a home-rule bill, which is necessary for the county to dissolve from the solid waste authority.

Otsego and Schoharie counties also created complementary home-rule bills to present to the state Legislature. All three counties must present home-rule bills to the state in order for MOSA to officially be dissolved.

If the legislature approves the home-rule bills, MOSA’s assets will be turned over to the counties so they can operate their own solid waste systems. The counties will each get a working transfer station to make operational.

MOSA’s cash reserves will be divided based on the service agreement: Montgomery County would get 42 percent, Otsego County would receive 40 percent, and Schoharie County would get 18 percent.

In the meantime, Montgomery County officials are weighing their options, both short term and long term, regarding how to dispose of their garbage.

Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairman and Root Supervisor John Thayer said one of the short term options for the county includes privatization.

“We could privatize the transfer stations and go out for a [request for proposal] to privatize them and then the winner of the RFP would run the operation,” Thayer said.

He said the county could take over the transfer stations and run them or they could sell the stations outright.

Thayer said while he does not have a concrete number on what it would cost to privatize the system or have the county take over the transfer stations, it could be close to what MOSA is currently charging, which is in the range of $65 a ton.

Thayer also mentioned Montgomery County is looking to partner with the Fulton County Solid Waste Department.

“We’ve been having discussions with Fulton County,” he said. “We’re in the discussion stage. That’s just one of our options and we’re discussing it with Fulton County to see where we can go. If that’s a viable option, we’ll bring it to the board.”

Fulton County can accept garbage from outside of its borders, usually charging a higher rate per ton than its residents and businesses pay.

Fulton County’s Solid Waste Director Jeffrey Bouchard said the municipal rate in Fulton County is $33 a ton for garbage, while the rate for out-of-county garbage is $56 a ton.

Bouchard said it’s possible Fulton County could take Montgomery County’s garbage, at least in the short term.

“We have looked at taking waste from out of the county as a way of assisting in our operations,” he said. “It would be a contractural thing, so until the decision is actually made we would have to talk specifics and we’re not [at that point yet].”

Bouchard said Fulton County’s Solid Waste Department has contracts with the villages of Canajoharie, Middleburgh, Richmondville, Schuylerville, Schoharie, and the towns of Hadley and Niskayuna. They all have the same contracts, which allow the dumping of sludge at a rate of $65 a ton.

Middleburgh, Richmondville and Schoharie are all in Schoharie County. Bouchard said these villages don’t have sludge contracts with MOSA, however, because sludges aren’t dumped at MOSA’s transfer stations.

“These are all sludge contracts and they don’t take sludges into a transfer station – that’s for municipal waste,” he said.

According to Bouchard, the department isn’t worried about running out of landfill space; in fact, it’s looking for more garbage.

“Currently what we’re looking at is additional waste because we’ve had increased sludges, and what you don’t want to do is add too much dirt, so we look at alternatives all the time,” he said.

During a debate last Wednesday between Montgomery County Executive candidates Matt Ossenfort and Dominick Stagliano, Ossenfort mentioned that there may be “cutting-edge programs” that could include creating “waste to energy” sites within Montgomery County as a potential long-term solution.

Stagliano said Ossenfort’s idea would probably require the development of a landfill, which, he said has long been controversial in Montgomery County.

“You want to build a landfill in an area that has a lot of clay soil so that there isn’t any penetration” he said. “Two areas [with clay soil] are the town of Charleston and Root and there were two organizations – Citizens Against Local Landfills and Citizens Against MOSA – that started up to stop a landfill from starting.”

According to Stagliano, MOSA originally wanted to site a landfill in the county during the late ’90s. He said Charleston and Root, the two towns most viable for sites, passed local laws so that landfills could not be sited there.

“It comes down to the issue of no one wanting a landfill in their backyard,” he said. “The other problem is that [it takes] at least 10 years to site a landfill.”

MOSA’s executive director Dennis Heaton said each acre of a new landfill costs approximately $500,000 to build.

“Truthfully we don’t generate enough waste in the county at 42 to 44,000 tons [per year] to make a landfill by ourselves profitable,” Stagliano said.

Stagliano thinks Fulton County would benefit in both the short and the long term by taking Montgomery County’s waste.

“There’s excess capacity out there, so it would make no sense to make another landfill.”

Heaton just wants the transition to go smoothly.

“Garbage comes in, garbage goes out; the last thing we want to see is a bottleneck somewhere,” Heaton said. “It’d be good to see everything work smoothly and consistently and there’s no headaches.”

Montgomery County is hoping to have an idea of what they want to do with their garbage before they finalize their budget, Thayer said.

“We need to finalize our budget by December. We hope to have an idea of what we’re doing with solid waste before we finalize it, because [we need a plan in place] if we’re going to run the transfer stations as a county operation.”