Council rips mayor for ‘punting’ trash issue

Council rips mayor for ‘punting’ trash issue

Mayor: Still committed to finding solution

PAWTUCKET – Members of the City Council say Mayor Donald Grebien is showing poor leadership as he hands them the reins on the future of waste disposal in the city.

Grebien says he’s done “nothing but lead on this issue,” but believes the council now bears some responsibility for finding a solution.

In a letter March 19, the mayor said sometimes the “best way to lead is to take a step back from a situation.” Stepping aside will hopefully allow the council to make an informed decision as members develop a request for proposals for a vendor to operate the Grotto Avenue waste transfer station, he said.

Council President David Moran said at a March 28 meeting that council members will accept the task if Grebien is looking to “punt” it to them, but said the mayor has a responsibility to help find a solution to the problem. Moran said he was “flabbergasted” to read Grebien’s words that the best thing for him to do in leading was to take a step back.

“I couldn’t believe I read that because that is not leadership,” he said. Leading is “seizing control, not relinquishing control,” he said.

“The second floor” (location of Grebien’s office) has practiced poor communication throughout the debate on sanitation services, said Moran.

Councilor Terry Mercer said “the council will now have to do the due diligence” on finding a solution to the city’s waste dilemma, emphasizing that there’s “no perfect solution.” It’s “delusional” for Grebien to be taking a step back when it’s his responsibility to find answers, said Mercer. It was the mayor who “walked down an improper path from day one” in wanting to build a larger transfer station on Concord Street, he said.

Grebien responded this week by saying he’s been leading the effort on better sanitation services since taking office in 2010, including going to a private operator, Waste Haulers, to run the transfer station, at a yearly savings of about $750,000.

In 2014, the council approved a contract including a plan to create an access road at the Grotto Avenue facility. When it became clear that the access road wouldn’t work, Councilor Tim Rudd and the neighborhood were notified and Waste Haulers (now Link Environmental) began looking at alternate sites, including Concord Street, Grebien said. It wasn’t until last April that an update agreement was signed to begin the public process.

The council and residents wanted more input outside the formal approval process, so his administration established a panel with the Hassenfeld Institute, said Grebien. Rudd asked the council to reject that approach, “so we respected their request.”

“The current (request for proposals), which is in process, will allow the council to provide input on the short and long term plans, as well as get the facts and figures out in the open once again,” said Grebien. There needs to be respectful conversation and accurate data to come up with a solution, he said.

If the city chooses to cease operation, and directly haul trash to Johnston, it will immediately cost $1.4 million, which equates to approximately $75 per household annually, said Grebien. The city is still obligated to cap and close the Grotto Avenue site. According to the last estimate done in 2008, that will cost $3.5 million, which equates to $176 per household annually.

“These are not insignificant dollars to our hard-working residents,” he said. “This is why I have been trying to work closely with the council and residents to make sure they understand the true numbers. I’m committed to continuing to do so. At the end of the day, regardless of whether we agree or disagree, this affects all of us as residents.”

Purchasing Agent Dave Clemente told the council on March 28 that he’s coming up against a “major roadblock” in his attempt to develop a request for proposals from companies interested in running the transfer station. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management has indicated that the permit for the facility will run out at the end of May, and there’s no promise of an extension if the city doesn’t have a plan for addressing expensive cleanup and upgrades of the site, he said.

But councilors responded that the license would have expired June 1 either way. Clemente responded that the plan was to build a new expanded waste transfer facility on Concord Street, but that idea is now in jeopardy.

Councilor Meghan Kallman said RIDEM may be willing to accommodate an extension even without the Concord Street plan.

Clemente said a request for proposals asking companies to bid on cleaning up the Grotto Avenue facility is unlikely to get responses. Preliminary numbers are pegged between $2 million and $4 million, he said, and include state-required site improvements, new roadways, and new doors to enclose the facility.

The council, by a 5-4 vote March 28, postponed a vote on extending a three-month contract with Link Environmental at the Grotto Avenue facility to six months, with Moran and Councilors Sandra Cano, John Barry, Kallman and Rudd all voting to delay the vote to Wednesday night, April 11.

Kallman pushed postponing the vote, saying her biggest takeaway from the meeting was that officials really have no idea what the best strategy is going forward.

Councilor Mark Wildenhain, who motioned to extend the contract with Link Environmental for six months, reiterated Monday that he did so because he agrees with Councilor Mercer that the city is risking $100,000 per month for three months if the contract with Link expires and the city ceases operations June 1. The city could end up spending a lot more to send trash to Johnston, said Wildenhain, but still has no plan in place for if the Grotto Avenue station shuts down. No one seems to have a plan in place “because they already have their own plans in mind,” he said.

Councilor John Barry III, at the March 28 meeting, also criticized Grebien, saying the mayor has known for a long time about the issues facing the city with waste disposal, and should have been talking with the council a long time ago on other potential solutions besides the proposed controversial move of the facility to Concord Street, where the mayor was seeking to expand operations.

With any and all requests for financial information, said Councilor Albert Vitali Jr., the council needs “solid figures and numbers in front of us” so members can offer specifics to taxpayers.

Rudd said officials need to know all their options on costs, which is why he made requests seeking requests for proposals on demolition and cleanup of the Grotto Avenue site, city operation of the transfer station, and what it would take for a hauler to take all trash from city curbs to Johnston.

Comments

LOL The council does not know how to handle this issue. They are not good at hitting curve balls. I think Grebien knows this will make them look inept. Also what kind a definition of leadership is “seizing control “? Leadership is leading. But I do agree that Grebien does not appear to be leading.