Sole bidder is existing operator of city transfer station

Sole bidder is existing operator of city transfer station

PAWTUCKET – The only company placing a bid to operate the Blackstone Valley Regional Transfer Station on Grotto Avenue is the company already running it.

Public Works Director Eric Earls said his department is working with City Councilors Terry Mercer and Tim Rudd, as well as representatives from the Central Landfill in Johnston, on reviewing the bid of Waste Connections Inc. responding to the city’s request for proposals for operations.

Mercer said Monday that negotiations with WCI have taken a bit of a back seat during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, but officials are still “hoping to find the best path forward” on the future of the transfer station, which has been a source of much controversy for years.

There are “upsides and downsides to all potential options,” Mercer said, but no matter what the city does, it’s critical that the transfer station’s operator be held more accountable for operations going forward.

“If we do go ahead and go down the path of building, or having them build and operate, there’s absolute consensus among all council members that we need to be a lot more diligent about getting what we bargained for and holding the vendor’s feet to the fire over the course of the contract,” he said.

Among the issues with the company over the years have been a lack of general upkeep and cleanup and improper covering of trucks, leading residents to complain about increased rats.

Asked for information related to WCI’s bids based on multiple scenarios presented by the city, members of Mayor Donald Grebien’s administration said there has been no public discussion of the numbers yet and the information will not yet be released. Numbers are being discussed with purchasing, the DPW, Rudd and Mercer.

Among the options before the council for potential approval are:

• Having WCI rebuild the transfer station to modern standards and have only municipal waste accepted;

• Or have the company build a new station and keep the 600-ton cap while continuing to accept garbage from outsiders.

The City Council has shown little appetite for shutting down the station fully, which would come with a much more significant financial hit.

Rudd, who in the past has offered the option of only having city trash accepted at the facility as a compromise, could not be reached for comment.

Mercer said this week that “where the trash comes from” is a part of the negotiations happening behind closed doors. Talks are not related to finalizing a contract at this point.

Rudd said that even though the council has a seat at the table in this discussion, the decision remains an administrative function.

"Councilor Mercer and I are involved to bring the advice of the council relative to operation and safeguards," he said. "Just because there's a bid and potential negotiations doesn't mean the city is goign to pull the trigger."

Rudd said he still firmly believes, when looking at the best interest of quality of life, that the facility should be either closed entirely, or if there is a transfer station, it should only be for Pawtucket's trash.

"It's clear the current way of operations is not working," he said.

Dylan Zelazo, chief of staff to Mayor Donald Grebien, said the remaining options are not ideal ones, but a rebuilt station with continued revenue from outside sources is the likely option moving forward.

An upgrade to the facility has been tabbed at $2 million to $2.5 million, meaning the city would likely pay about $300,000 per year back over a 10-year contract with WCI, with the total closer to $3 million with interest. A scenario where only Pawtucket trash is accepted and taken to the landfill would likely cost the city $1 million or more annually.

In summary, the two options being considered by the city in negotiations with WCI is to build a new facility with the existing operational parameters, which essentially breaks even, or upgrade it and pay significantly more to accept garbage only from city residents.

“This is an important issue for the city of Pawtucket that has impacts on trash and recycling services for all residents, taxes for all taxpayers, and a number of quality of life matters for the surrounding neighborhoods,” said Earls in a statement. “The transfer station is a direct benefit to the residents of Pawtucket who utilize the facility on a regular basis to dispose of several types of trash. We are working to balance the direct financial and service impact to the residents.”