Selectmen Scale Back Transfer Station Renovation Amid Fiscal Uncertainty

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Recycling and Solid Waste , COVID-19

Major renovations to the Chatham transfer station have been postponed because of the COVID-19 outbreak.  FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM — Plans are now in place for the long-awaited renovation of the town's trash transfer station and recycling center. But given the financial uncertainties caused by COVID-19, selectmen last week said they'd like to see a scaled-down project rather than the $4.3 million renovation that they pursued earlier.

Selectmen heard a brief presentation from DPW Director Tom Temple, who argued that the disposal area is a key part of the town’s response to any emergency, whether it is a coastal storm, tornado or health crisis. It remains in operation with precautions designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, though as of last week, one employee was out of work with flu-like symptoms, Temple said. Smaller buildings have been closed to prevent people from going in together, and workers are wearing personal protective equipment. Keeping the transfer station open is a necessity, he said.

“It’s a very, very important part of our operations,” Temple said.

Improvements to the transfer station are needed to bring the facility into compliance with federal occupational safety and health requirements, as well as to reduce noise and odors reported by neighbors. The new design also seeks to separate the commercial haulers from residential users to improve efficiency and traffic flow.

Originally estimated to cost upwards of $8 million, the preferred renovation plan was refined considerably and now stands at $4.3 million, Temple said. The first phase of the job, costing $2.08 million, involves the new facility for receiving residential trash and recyclables, which could be put out to bid this summer, with construction starting in the fall.

The second phase involves a new garage and office building, providing proper break room and rest room facilities for employees. The existing spaces are inadequate, and to achieve proper social distancing between employees, staff meetings now have to be held outdoors, Temple said. Phase two is expected to cost $1 million, and could be ready for construction in spring 2021, he said.

In the third phase, key changes would be made to the tipping building to better control noise and litter from the commercial recycling and trash areas. The price tag is estimated to be $1.22 million, and the job could be complete by the fall of 2021.

The total price estimates include contingencies and would be bonded over 20 years. Temple said the tax impact for a single-family home valued at $600,000 would be $30.48 in the first year and less in the years that follow.

“If we were in different times, I might say, let’s do the whole thing,” Selectman Dean Nicastro said. But with the COVID-19 pandemic causing fiscal uncertainty, it might be wiser to take on only the first phase for now, he said.

As capital projects go, “my appetite for this one has waned” because of the virus, board member Jeffrey Dykens said. “I think we’re really going to have to do a gut check and re-prioritize what we’re spending our money on.” He asked whether it might be possible to take on the first phase of the project in multiple parts, and Temple said doing so might be possible but would be complicated.

Board member Cory Metters acknowledged that a delay might mean cost increases for the project. He said the parts of the renovation that improve worker safety and help meet OSHA requirements should be a priority.

“It’s a rough environment down there,” he said. While the whole project is worthwhile, “I can’t go all in at the moment,” Metters said.

Temple said that moving ahead with the project would serve as a vote of confidence in DPW staff at a difficult time.

“When everybody’s home, this place is still going to be running,” he said.

Dykens said his reluctance to support the project isn’t a reflection on the staff.

“It’s just the timing is horrific,” he said.

Selectmen voted to include the first phase of the project on the annual town meeting warrant, but asked staff to scale down the work to focus on meeting OSHA requirements.

“I think that sends a signal to the employees that we are interested in their well-being,” but also shows taxpayers that the board is being fiscally prudent at a difficult time, Nicastro said.

The board voted unanimously to include the article without a dollar amount, and to place a debt exclusion request on the annual town election ballot, without a dollar amount.