Refuse district issues face Tisbury voters
Tisbury voters will decide whether to take the first steps towards creating a regional waste management district at a special town meeting September 30 at 7:30 pm in the Tisbury School gym. Much like a bin of commingled recyclables, it takes some sorting to separate out the details of the article's $1.2 million price tag.
Article three asks voters to authorize the selectmen to enter into an agreement with Oak Bluffs to use $406,708 available in a joint fund towards a three-year lease on three parcels of land totaling about 11 acres adjacent to the Martha's Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District (MVRDRD) transfer station in Edgartown, across from the airport. The joint fund accrues from a surcharge levied on a per ton basis for the purpose of maintaining the Oak Bluffs and Tisbury transfer station facility.
Purchasing the additional property in Edgartown is crucial to any future plans for expansion in creating an Island-wide refuse district and facility. Presently, the 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.
The Tisbury and Oak Bluffs selectmen have been discussing the possibility of rejoining the MVRDRD since January. They recently made a unanimous decision to enter into an agreement to lease the 11-acre property, with the option - and intention - to buy it. The agreement accomplishes several objectives - it keeps the land available for three years, demonstrates a financial commitment towards forming a regional district, and buys time for the six towns to work out the details of a new district charter.
"I think that everyone recognizes that the opportunity may be short-lived to obtain the property necessary to go into the future and deal with future waste-streams," said Tisbury public works director Fred LaPiana on Tuesday. "What we're saying is we know we're going to come together as one district eventually, and the timing of the purchase is critical. We want to ensure through all means possible that we obtain that parcel of land, and any partnerships in its purchase will be realized as the votes are taken."
The lease agreement also includes the option to purchase the property any time during or at the end of the three years, for $1.4 million. The lease payments, $100,000 annually, plus a one-time additional payment would be applied to the purchase price, for a total of approximately $406,708. If purchased before the end of the three-year lease, the price will be pro-rated 10 percent.
If both Tisbury and Oak Bluffs participate in the lease and purchase as agreed, the cost will be about $700,000 per town. However, as a back-up plan, Tisbury's special town meeting warrant article also asks voters to authorize the selectmen to borrow up $1.2 million to purchase the land.
"We've chosen to take the lead, to ensure that the Island is protected and has the property necessary to do what we need to do. But we have also developed relationships with Oak Bluffs, certainly, that's our biggest partner, and discussions with the district lead us to believe that a cost share will occur," Mr. LaPiana explained. "We also realize that in rejoining the district there will be a buy-in into the district, which obviously has already paid money to construct a facility and made that investment - we haven't participated in that yet financially, so there would be a buy-in of some sort to join. Appraising that value and developing a new charter required to join as one district again is going to take many negotiations between the towns, and unfortunately, the property isn't going to wait for that."
How the numbers add up
Tisbury Finance and Advisory Committee (FinCom) member Bruce Lewellyn, who is a retired attorney, worked closely with the selectmen and Mr. LaPiana in carefully crafting the article. In a recent phone call, Mr. Lewellyn explained the reasoning behind the numbers.
"$1.2 million is a number we calculated as being enough to be sufficient to allow the town of Tisbury to do this unilaterally," Mr. Lewellyn said. "I cannot stress enough that it is not the intent or expectation that Tisbury will or will have to do it unilaterally - the amount really in play is Tisbury's share of the $406,000 joint account and the remainder of the purchase price, which is just under $500,000."
In the meantime, Oak Bluffs town administrator Michael Dutton said on Tuesday that Oak Bluffs also is moving forward with plans to bring the same issues to voters, most likely in November. "We've worked very hand in hand with Tisbury to come up with warrant articles that would be virtually identical on town meeting warrants - we're just starting the process of having discussions with the Finance Committee," he said.
Representatives from the MVRDRD and the Joint Solid Waste Advisory Committee of Tisbury and Oak Bluffs have been discussing the possibility of an Island-wide consolidated waste facility in meetings over the last two years. The Martha's Vineyard Commission's Island Plan energy and waste work group also has been following the discussions.
In September 2007, the MVRDRD agreed to contribute $5,000 and Tisbury and Oak Bluffs $2,500 each towards the cost of a consultant's study as a first step.
Environmental Partners Group, a consulting firm based in Quincy chosen to do the study, released the results in January 2008, which were pitched at meetings of the All-Island Selectmen and the Martha's Vineyard Finance Committee.
Among its recommendations, the preliminary solid waste management master planning initiative suggested reconsolidating the Island's two refuse districts into a regional operation in the interest of economy and efficiency.
At an All-Island Selectmen's meeting on Jan. 23, 2008, Mr. LaPiana, one of Tisbury's representatives on the joint committee, explained that the two
refuse districts not only were looking to save money on trash and recycling for the Island, but also to increase opportunities for using new technology for collection and disposal.
"We find that with the increase in restrictions that the DEP [Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection] has given us in trying to separate out our
waste stream, that additional facilities will be needed to do that processing," Mr. LaPiana said. "We find that we're going to get a little more complex and greener on the Island, and we need help to do that. Both our districts, the Oak Bluffs-Tisbury District and the MV Refuse District, are not sized at this time to handle those challenges."
According to the consultants' report, the MVRDRD currently is not permitted for yard waste composting, but it is collected and shipped off-Island at a cost of $165 per ton. Mr. LaPiana said that Tisbury does have a permit from DEP for leaf and yard composting, and it exceeds capacity every fall.
The land purchase and subsequent expansion of the Edgartown facility would allow for a yard waste composting operation, as well as services such as year-round hazardous waste collection and its temporary storage, a municipal recycling center, and a small animal crematorium.
"Those are some of the shortfalls we currently have," Mr. LaPiana told the selectmen. "We also see an increase in volume coming, and neither facility has the capacity at this point, the way they're built, to accumulate a significant increase in volume over time."
The problem is that neither the MVRDRD nor the Tisbury and Oak Bluffs District has any place to expand. The only land approved for expansion by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is the 11-acre property next to the Edgartown waste facility - on which three homes could be built.
In revisiting the issues this week, Mr. LaPiana said, "The key to that particular site is that if the property is developed with three individual houses, the buffer zone would extend right through to West Tisbury-Edgartown Road - so therefore, if that were to be developed, no further changes or expansion would be allowed in the existing district, which would have a severe impact on future operations."
Mr. LaPiana said the property owner approached the district about buying the 11 acres and held off on selling it for at least a year and a half.
Although the MVRDRD originally considered purchasing the property, they chose not to because they were aware of Oak Bluffs and Tisbury's interest, Mr. LaPiana said.