Oak Bluffs, Tisbury consider trash transport by barge and rail

A Packer's barge may be used to transport solid waste. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Tisbury Department of Public Works director Fred LaPiana updated the Steamship Authority (SSA) members on Tuesday on a proposal under consideration by Tisbury and Oak Bluffs to transport the towns’ trash by barge from Martha’s Vineyard to New Bedford for disposal at a nearby landfill.

“We were successful in procuring a long-term contract with Crapo Landfill in New Bedford-North Dartmouth,” Mr. LaPiana said. “They gave us the best value for what we were looking for, and now we have been looking at getting it there, a little less expensively, if possible.”

The Oak Bluffs-Tisbury district is one of two refuse districts on the Island. The Martha’s Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District (MVRDRRD) manages solid waste for Edgartown, West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah.

Oak Bluffs and Tisbury run separate local drop-off stations, as well as a joint transfer station in Oak Bluffs, run by Bruno’s Roll-Off of Edgartown.

Oak Bluffs and Tisbury contracted HDR Engineering in Boston in April 2011, to conduct a study to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a port-to-port containerized freight service between Martha’s Vineyard and New Bedford.

According to the feasibility study, Mr. LaPiana said, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury could ship refuse less expensively by barge to New Bedford than on SSA ferries to Woods Hole, if they transport at least 18 containers per barge.

“And the way we figure it in our district, and I’m just speaking for our district alone, for every $5 a ton we save, and wherever that comes from, we save about $70,000 annually in processing,” Mr. LaPiana said. “So it’s a huge component.”

By sail and rail

The study focused on the potential for barge service to transport municipal solid waste (MSW) and construction and demolition debris (C&DD) generated by Tisbury and Oak Bluffs.

Currently Bruno’s uses seven open-top trailers to transport waste from the station, using an SSA freight boat on a daily basis, according to the study. Bruno’s hauls approximately 27 tons of either MSW or C&DD per load. MSW is trucked to Covanta’s SEMASS facility in Rochester, Mass., and C&DD to Transload America’s Pond View facility.

Including the SSA tariff, driver charge, labor, amortized trailer costs, fuel, truck maintenance, and insurance, licensing and taxes, the study estimated the cost per trip at $999.86 and the cost per ton, assuming 27 tons per truck, at $35.71.

The SSA transports about 150 refuse trucks from Martha’s Vineyard per month during the summer and about 1,300 annually, SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said.

The study scope also included an assessment of the feasibility of using both rail and truck service to move the trash from New Bedford to disposal facilities.

“We looked at using the rail system in New Bedford as part of that transportation link, hoping to get a better price overall in our disposal,” Mr. LaPiana said.

Transport and disposal costs were compared using three scenarios, which ranged in price from $140.66 per ton to $167.15 per ton. HDR said that although there were many variations, the three scenarios chosen represent potentially efficient transportation systems and give a comparison of rail and truck transport options.

How it works

“As you see in the report, the results basically tell us a couple of things,” Mr. LaPiana said. “They tell us rail transportation requires basically a lift on-lift off operation. We’re going to need a crane to pick up or stack containers from a vessel to put on a rail car. Unfortunately both ports, New Bedford and us here in Vineyard Haven, don’t have those facilities. So in order to get to that point a fairly large capital investment needs to be made in both ports to install crane services and that sort of thing.”

The alternative involves rolling containers on to a barge or a boat, for pick-up in New Bedford.

“So we’re looking at taking a barge at this point, and floating containers directly to New Bedford, and then bringing them over to the New Bedford facility,” Mr. LaPiana said. “And in doing so, we’re looking at reducing our price in terms of processing.”

The feasibility study stemmed from preliminary discussions in 2009 about possibly transporting trash and recyclables by barge and rail between an Island group, including Mr. LaPiana and Tisbury Towing and business owner Ralph Packer, and CSX and Cape Rail representatives in New Bedford.

At that time, Mr. LaPiana said they were considering the possibility of being able to transport containers of recyclables and trash by barge from Mr. Packer’s dock in Vineyard Haven to his dock in New Bedford, and then transport it by rail to the final disposal site.

“This is where we’re at today; we’re negotiating or are in process of discussions of barge service through Mr. Packer’s outfit to deliver these containers of MSW and construction debris, and we’re seeing where that goes,” Mr. LaPiana said.

Tisbury Transportation and Towing would need the buy or lease another barge to transport waste on a consistent basis, according to the study. The market price of used deck barges similar to the sizes owned by Tisbury Towing ranges from $150,000 to $300,000.

“What I would suggest is possibly, if you’re open to it, that if we find a barge that can handle more than 18 containers, which would be our peak season amount, and if we could fill in with other containers of goods, it is possible we could reduce our costs further,” Mr. LaPiana told the SSA board.

Pros and Cons

Robert Jones, port council member from Hyannis, praised the feasibility study and asked Mr. LaPiana if he would attend a meeting with the port council for further discussion.

“I think where our relationship is and what’s important to us, is the amount of freight and the loss of freight, and the backfill would be an important question to answer,” Mr. Jones said. “Because if it’s starting to take freight that’s normally destined on the ships, then there’s an impact, and that needs stricter licensing, I think.” Backfill describes cargo hauled back to the Island in the empty containers.

Oak Bluffs town administrator Bob Whritenour offered a different perspective. “I’m convinced that any loss of revenue from having the solid waste directly in with all of the other traffic is more than made up for in what I see is a better business relationship between all of the communities in the whole transport,” he said.

“If in fact it gets your costs down, and in fact it gets trash off the streets on its way from Woods Hole and through Falmouth, we’ve got a home run here,” Falmouth SSA member Robert Marshall told Mr. LaPiana. “It’s been my signature issue, if I may use that term, in my career here. We wanted, with the cooperation of New Bedford, which we’ve had all along, a way to find relief from trash, fuel, hazardous materials, all that stuff. This is a crack in the armor, for sure.”

The feasibility study said the barge transportation system would be most efficient if it transports MSW and C&DD containers at the same time and as many tons as possible. However, since Oak Bluffs and Tisbury generate relatively low quantities of waste, it might be necessary to store it for several days to fill up a barge.

That would require the use of sealed containers or plastic-wrapped bales to reduce potential odor and pest problems. Mr. LaPiana said Tisbury’s old transfer station would be used as a staging area for the sealed containers.

The study recommended that Tisbury look into the feasibility and cost of transporting MSW in plastic-wrapped bales. The installation of a baling system at the transfer station would cost approximately $600,000. Once trash is baled, it can be stored for many days, plus it offers the advantage of being significantly compacted.

“It can be and should be a very profitable endeavor, but there are many obstacles that need to be overcome if we’re going to do more than just trash per se, and do other commodities,” Mr. LaPiana said.