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Solid waste answers remain elusive

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County’s inability to so far solve its solid waste dilemma led to complaints Monday that the county is treating users of the system unfairly. Last spring, the village of Massena discussed its tentative plans with legislators to pull out of the county system and develop its own way of hauling waste.

“The county took a lot of information and is attempting to thwart my efforts to be more efficient,” Massena Department of Public Works Superintendent Hassan A. Fayad said at the Board of Legislators meeting. “My plan now is to seek the most economical option.”

The county has struggled for months to come up with a way to lower its $137-per-ton tipping fee as the amount of waste dropped off at its transfer sites continues to slip.

Lawmakers heard in July about a proposal to require trash haulers — other than Casella, which county officials believe handles more waste than they could manage — to take their loads to the county’s transfer stations, but that has proved unpopular.

Flow control for some but not all is discriminatory and increases the costs to small haulers, Mr. Fayad said.

“If my costs go up, how I can be competitive?” asked Kathy A. Gibson, Canton, who operates a business with her husband, James, that includes handling St. Lawrence University’s trash.

While the county has an agreement to use the Development of the North Country’s landfill in the town of Rodman with partners Jefferson and Lewis counties, Jefferson County does not have flow control. The situation makes for an unequal partnership when the DANC landfill is 108 miles from Massena and the Franklin County landfill is 34 miles from the village, Mr. Fayad said.

The county had hoped that increasing traffic at the transfer stations in addition to eliminating an accounting practice that squirrels away money for post-employment benefit costs would decrease its tipping fee by $35 per ton. However, potential savings from not booking the future benefit costs are being eaten up by slipping tonnages. Rather than cut the tipping fee, it could increase in less than 10 years to $200 per ton.

“I believe this is spinning out of control,” Legislator Mark H. Akins, R-Lisbon, said. “I get very nervous when I hear $200 a ton.”

What makes people fearful is when numbers are batted around without justification, Legislator Gregory M. Paquin, D-Massena, said.

“I don’t know where that $200 is coming from,” he said. “It doesn’t exist.”

But Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, the chairman of the county’s committee on solid waste, said the $200-per-ton tipping fee could become reality if trends continue.

Legislators voted 9-6 on party lines to hire a heavy equipment operator in the Solid Waste Department, which was left vacant in August due to promotion.

Leaving the position vacant means vacations are put off and overtime is necessary, Highway Superintendent Toby W. Bogart said.

“I would love to have a public discussion of a five-year plan, a three-year plan,” Mr. Akins said. “Doing nothing is not the answer. We have to make a policy and we have to look forward.”

The situation will only worsen if lawmakers do not come up with a solution, Legislator Kevin D. Acres, R-Madrid, said.

“Once again, you’re not facing reality,” he said. “The reason you’re losing tons is that you’re not competitive.”

Hiring should wait until a plan is in place, Mr. Acres said.

The answers will come shortly, Legislator Stephen M. Putman, D-Canton, said.

“We are going to need to have a discussion and develop a plan,” he said. “In the meantime, we need to fill this position.”

Legislators also approved a two-year contract with Civil Service Employees Association Unit 8427, the employees of the Solid Waste Department, that mirrors provisions in a CSEA contract approved earlier.

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