Island trash may take to the rails
A preliminary discussion about the possibility of transporting trash and recyclables by rail took place between an Island group and CSX and Cape Rail representatives in New Bedford last Thursday.
"Essentially we're looking at rail transport, and it would be the possibility of being able to deliver containers of recyclables and trash to Ralph Packer's dock in New Bedford, and rail it out to the ultimate disposal site," Tisbury department of public works director Fred LaPiana said in a phone call Monday. "And we may save money in the process."
In addition to Mr. LaPiana and Mr. Packer, the Island contingent at the meeting included Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel, Martha's Vineyard Commission executive director Mark London, Tisbury harbormaster Jay Wilbur, and Dukes County manager Russell Smith.
Under the Island's current waste disposal process, trash is hauled by truck on Steamship Authority ferries and then transported to the SEMASS facility in Rochester or to the Fall River landfill.
Mr. LaPiana said what prompted the discussion about possible rail transport is that SEMASS has a number of long-term contracts with Cape towns that will expire in the next five years. The incinerator operator is reevaluating its rate structure.
"And of course, when that happens, nine times out of ten, rates don't go down, they go up," Mr. LaPiana said. "And so what we're trying to do is to provide some level of competition, so that we can keep our prices to a minimum. And rail transport seems to be, just from a preliminary standpoint, an option that might be available to us."
Looking to increase the volume of trash it transports in the event rates go up, Cape Rail contacted the Oak Bluffs-Tisbury District about the possibility of delivering its trash to tracks at Otis Air National Guard Base where it could be loaded on a train and delivered to SEMASS.
"It didn't make sense economically for us to drive our stuff to Otis and have Cape Rail take it to Rochester where SEMASS is, so we started thinking about other options," Mr. LaPiana said. He asked about using a facility in New Bedford, and since CSX's main line goes into New Bedford, Cape Rail set up discussions between all the parties involved.
At last week's meeting, the group also visited Mr. Packer's New Bedford dock facility, which is right off the CSX rail line. Mr. Packer uses his New Bedford dock facility for his fuel distribution business, R.M. Packer Company, and towing business, Tisbury Towing.
"All CSX would have to do is provide a spur to his property," Mr. LaPiana said. "And of course being a major rail line in the U.S., CSX was very amenable to exploring the possibility."
"But we haven't approached New Bedford yet," he added. "We still need to first see if this is actually feasible and if it's something we want to pursue or not. Then the powers that be on Martha's Vineyard, having made a decision in that regard, would go and discuss the issue with New Bedford."
To use the rail option, trash containers would be shipped on a barge to Mr. Packer's dock and then lifted by forklift onto a train. Mr. LaPiana said in the peak season, Tisbury and Oak Bluffs generate about 80 tons of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) a day, and the Island as a whole, double that. The Oak Bluffs-Tisbury transfer station alone ships four trash trucks a day on the ferry.
"Utilizing the facility in New Bedford gives us the potential to expand our area of opportunity beyond Massachusetts's borders, and to be able to get the best price for our MSW disposal and construction debris disposal," Mr. LaPiana said. "It may work out that we could still ship trash by rail from New Bedford to SEMASS if they gave us the best price," he added.
Mr. LaPiana emphasized that last week's discussion was very preliminary. "We're looking at it at this point from an Oak Bluffs-Tisbury transfer station and district perspective, with the hopes of possibly bringing it up, if it looks like it's feasible, to the Island as a whole," he said. "We don't want anybody getting upset, because we haven't made any decisions. We're just looking into it."
The Island has two refuse districts. Martha's Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District (MVRDRD) manages solid waste for Edgartown, West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah.
The towns of Tisbury and Oak Bluffs withdrew from the district in 1993 and formed a separate municipal partnership for waste management. The two towns operate separate local drop-off stations, as well as a joint transfer station in Oak Bluffs run by Bruno's Roll-Off of Edgartown under a three-year contract awarded in November 2007.
The Island's two refuse districts have been discussing the possibility of creating a regional waste district since last year. In town meetings last spring Oak Bluffs and Tisbury voters authorized their selectmen to enter into an agreement to use money available in a joint transfer station fund towards leasing, with an option to buy, 11 acres next to the Edgartown transfer station in the event it will require expansion as an Island-wide facility.