CHATHAM — There's little disagreement that the town's trash transfer station and recycling center suffers from traffic congestion, odors, noise and general inefficiency. But the cost of fixing those problems is higher than expected; public works officials told selectmen last week that, using figures that are both very conservative and preliminary, the improvements could cost between $7.3 and $8.6 million.
“Those are huge numbers, guys,” Selectman Jeffrey Dykens told DPW Director Tom Temple and consultant Mike Richard of Weston and Sampson.
Richard said the goal is to make the facility more user-friendly and efficient, to make vehicle traffic patterns less confusing, and to reduce the nuisances of odors, windblown litter and noise. Improving the facility will also allow the town to address issues of employee safety and comfort, he said.
Working with stakeholders and employees, the consultants decided that any new design should seek to separate residents and commercial trash haulers as a safety improvement. The plan seeks to use more compactors for waste and recyclables, and to move commercial recycling indoors. Difficult-to-manage (DTM) waste like appliances and mattresses would be moved closer to the scale house, and improvements would be made to minimize noise from the disposal of construction and demolition waste.
Richard offered selectmen three preliminary concepts that would achieve those goals. All three reserve the tipping building for commercial trash and recycling, so while trash trucks turn right after the gatehouse, residents will turn left to access compactors for garbage and recyclables. The three plans also move the swap shop closer to the gatehouse.
Some of the changes aim to minimize noise and others prevent employees from having to move waste or recyclables twice. Option A makes the minimal number of changes, while Options B and C move DTM waste closer to the scale house. Option C has the best separation of residential and commercial traffic, but achieves this by routing residents to a new entrance on the south side of the property, which would require an overpass for the Old Colony Rail Trail.
The preliminary cost estimates for Option A are between $7.3 and $7.9 million; Option B – the one favored by planners – would be between $7.5 and $8 million. The price tag for Option C would be between $8 and $8.6 million.
“We’re very early in the design,” Richard said. The figures carry generous contingencies, including a $900,000 escalation if the work is put off until 2021, a $1.5 million design contingency to handle any soil contamination that is discovered during the work, and a $1 million reserve for unanticipated construction expenses. The final project cost will likely go down as the design advances, Richard said. It may also be possible for the town to obtain recycling grants to offset some of the costs, and town crews may be able to perform some of the work themselves.
Temple acknowledged the high cost but said his goal is to provide the town with a transfer station that will function well for 30 years or more. Steps can be taken to reduce the cost, “but we need to pick an option that best suits the town,” he said.
The plan includes a small fuel tank for the heavy equipment at the transfer station, and removing that element could trim as much as another $1 million, he said.
Board member Cory Metters said he visited the transfer station to see the problems and noticed that the employee break room and other working conditions were areas for improvement.
“They’re substandard,” he said.
Selectman Peter Cocolis said the board needs to choose one of the three options to allow the design to advance. The transfer station has problems, and neighbors have been complaining about noise and odors, he said. “Or we kick the can and do nothing,” he said. “And I don’t think we can do that.”
“The finance committee is going to choke on this,” board Chairman Dean Nicastro said. He urged the consultant to trim some elements of the plan, allowing only those that address “the most pressing issues there.”
West Pond Road resident Steve Jesus acknowledged the large price tag, but said the work needs to be done.
Selectmen voted unanimously to have the consultants further investigate Option B, with a goal of reducing the cost and phasing in the improvements over time, prioritizing the work to favor elements that address safety concerns and those raised by neighbors.
Under the current work schedule, design and permitting would take place next year, with the project going to town meeting in the spring of 2020. Construction would likely begin early in 2021.