New Contract Will Not Alter Newtown's Waste Disposal Practices

Published: January 27, 2018 at 12:00 am


Virtually all of the solid waste produced by homes and businesses in Newtown eventually ends up at the Wheelabrator trash-to-energy plant in Bridgeport. Newtown, along with ten other neighboring communities, recently ratified a new contract with the…
Virtually all of the solid waste produced by homes and businesses in Newtown eventually ends up at the Wheelabrator trash-to-energy plant in Bridgeport. Newtown, along with ten other neighboring communities, recently ratified a new contract with the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority, which coordinates and administers regional waste disposal and recycling on behalf of its member towns.

The company name Winters Brothers was corrected at 10 am on January 29.

Folks in homes and businesses in Newtown may not think much about the trash and recycling they casually toss into receptacles and either trundle out to the curb for regular pickup or take to the Newtown landfill themselves.

But where does all that stuff end up, anyway?

On January 16, the Board of Selectmen completed the process of endorsing a new contract with the Housatonic Resources Recovery Authority (HRRA), a state-approved agency that administers solid waste disposal and recycling processing for the community along with ten other neighboring towns along the northern Housatonic River Valley up to Kent.

That agency recently completed an agreement with Winters Brothers Waste Systems of Danbury to ensure Newtown's solid waste and recycling will be appropriately processed and transferred for final disposition - either at the Wheelabrator Environmental System (WES) trash-to-energy plant on the harbor in downtown Bridgeport, or through various recycling partners for reuse.

While an initial endorsement for the ten-year contract with renewal options was approved by selectmen on December 18, several minor adjustments required separate approval before the contract could be finalized about a month later.

During the December meeting, Newtown Public Works Director Fred Hurley was on hand along with HRRA Executive Director Jennifer Heaton-Jones. She explained to selectmen that the proposed contract would ensure that local residents and business owners would experience virtually no change in their own waste disposal and recycling experience.

The new HRRA contract, she said, creates no risk of financial exposure to the town, and ensures the community is in conformity to state laws that require municipalities to provide regular waste collections and disposal, along with maintaining current recycling practices. Local implications of the new contract include providing for the continuation of a lease between the town and the HRRA for transfer station operations at the 199 South Main Street landfill.

Between the initial December endorsement and the finalizing action taken by selectmen on January 16, Mr Hurley explained that there were a couple of slight modifications to the agreement, which were reviewed and accepted by legal representatives of both the town and HRRA.

Important Points

After this week's meeting Mr Hurley told The Newtown Bee that the biggest advantages to Newtown under the new deal include combining both solid waste and recycling disposal under one agreement, and eliminating a practice called "put or pay."

"What's important is that the new contract going forward is going to encompass both solid waste and recycling. The old contract was with Wheelabrator directly, and recycling was handled through an entity in Danbury that has been under the management of several entities, including the state, in recent years and is now under the ownership of Winters Brothers," Mr Hurley said. "In the new contract, Winters Brothers will take responsibility for all of it."

The "put or pay" provision that existed with Wheelabrator and its trash-to-energy facility in Bridgeport is now history.

"That is a significant advantage to all the HRRA towns," Mr Hurley said. "Put or pay stipulated that in situations where the towns do not deliver enough trash for Wheelabrator to burn to produce the energy it is contracted to generate and sell, the towns had to actually pay to make up that difference."

In addition, the previous contract required HRRA communities to back bonds that were tied to ensuring the towns conformed to mandates to provide waste disposal.

"Maybe, at the end of the day, the most important thing is it creates a cooperative arrangement between Winters Brothers and the HRRA - it recognizes that our markets [the level of waste being produced into the system] are going to rise and fall, and there is flexibility built into the contract to adjust to that," he added.
From a public perception, Mr Hurley said the stipulations of the new contract will be "seamless."

"There will be no change in operation at the Newtown Transfer Station, or as they process waste in any of the HRRA towns," Mr Hurley said. "What they see today, they will see tomorrow."

Looking toward the future, Mr Hurley said the agreement puts Newtown on track to fulfill a state goal of diverting 60 percent of its total waste to recycling by 2024. He said Winters Brothers has a plant that has the potential of sorting and extracting 20 to 30 percent more recycling from the solid waste that would formerly just go into the incinerators at the plant in Bridgeport.

"These are either recyclables that were inadvertently thrown into the trash versus being separated out by the consumer, or recyclables that were trashed by consumers who don't bother to recycle anything," he said.

The Backstory

Besides Newtown, the HRRA serves Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, Kent, New Fairfield, New Milford, Redding, Ridgefield, and Sherman.

The authority is made up of one representative and one alternate from each municipality for a total of 22 members. The chief elected official of each municipality either serves as his/her community representative to HRRA or appoints another representative as well as an alternate. Locally, Mr Hurley serves in that capacity.

The HRRA was created in July 1986, at a time when most municipal landfills in the region were nearing capacity and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was not approving permits for new landfills or landfill expansion.

Studies at the time showed that area municipalities would benefit by working together to solve the regional solid waste disposal problems, providing the impetus for formation of the HRRA in order to provide a long-range solid waste management solution for the Housatonic region.

Currently, after separation from recyclables, municipal solid waste (MSW) from HRRA municipalities is collected by private haulers at curb side from residential dwellings, by container from commercial establishments, or by municipally contracted haulers from local drop-off centers and transfer stations, and taken to one of three regional transfer stations operated by Wheelabrator Environmental Systems (WES) on behalf of the HRRA in Danbury, Newtown, or Ridgefield.

From these three regional transfer stations, MSW is trucked to one of two WES resource recovery facilities in Bridgeport or Lisbon, or taken to other legally permitted WES disposal sites outside the state. The resource recovery plants generate salable electricity, turning waste to energy by burning the MSW at very high temperatures.

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