Portsmouth sticking with current transfer station operation

Most residents oppose curbside pickup at heated meeting

By Jim McGaw
Posted 10/11/17

PORTSMOUTH — The town is keeping its transfer station.

After nearly three hours of contentious debate at a meeting that featured one resident being tossed from the room, the Town …

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Portsmouth sticking with current transfer station operation

Most residents oppose curbside pickup at heated meeting

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — The town is keeping its transfer station.

After nearly three hours of contentious debate at a meeting that featured one resident being tossed from the room, the Town Council Tuesday night voted 5-2 to forgo curbside pickup and let residents with dump stickers keep depositing their solid waste and recyclables at the Hedly Street station.

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, however, residents will pay far more to dump their trash than they are now. The price for an annual sticker will go from the current $160 to anywhere from $280 to $356 based on figures put forth by the town.

Still, council member Paul Kesson, who made the motion to stick with the transfer station and have it operated by the lowest bidder, spoke for many in the audience when he said keeping the transfer station was a better option than switching to curbside.

“I think it’s less money and offers more options for the people who want to use it,” Mr. Kesson said at the meeting, which was held in the Portsmouth Middle School auditorium.

Council members J. Mark Ryan and Linda Ujifusa, who favored curbside pickup, voted against the motion.

Although the town’s method of disposing its trash going forward was decided Tuesday, the contractor that will get the job was not. According to Council President Keith Hamilton, the council will award the contract Oct. 23 to one of two contractors: J.R. Vinagro or Waste Management. (See related story for more details on the bids.)

A third contractor, Lawrence Waste, was disqualified by the town’s administration team for reportedly not following the request for proposals (RFP), although several council members argued the bid package should be allowed. (Mr. Kesson’s motion made no request to include Lawrence, however.)

Whichever contractor the town hires, all agreed there needs to be better management at the station to stem abuse of the system. 

“Every time we have an increase in the sticker, more people fall out but yet the amount of trash stays the same. There is a heck of a lot of sticker-sharing going on, and cheating, that has put us in this situation,” said Mr. Hamilton, adding that residents also need to be doing a better job of recycling.

Most favor keeping station

The vast majority of residents who spoke Tuesday night were in favor of keeping the status quo. 

“People are happy with the transfer station; it’s part of Portsmouth,” said Judi Staven, who called curbside a “crapshoot” cost-wise. “If you want curbside, you can go get it privately.”

Peter Roberts agreed, saying the cost of the diesel fuel alone under curbside pickup would be “sky high.” 

He later accused town officials of trying to force the curbside option onto residents and got into a testy exchange with Mr. Hamilton, who yelled at Mr. Roberts to “knock it off” before ordering him out of the room. After exchanging an insult with an audience member and having a few words with Police Chief Thomas Lee, Mr. Roberts exited the auditorium.

Another resident, Gary Martin, said he liked having the transfer station because it was convenient. “I’m grateful we have a place like the transfer station that we can go to, on our schedule,” he said.

Larry Fitzmorris of the watchdog group Portsmouth Concerned Citizens said the bids for curbside pickup should have included cost estimates for road repairs that will eventually be needed due to all the trucks going in and out of neighborhoods, especially those areas with narrow streets such as Island Park and Common Fence Point.

The case for curbside

One of the few residents to speak in favor of curbside pickup was Michelle McGaw. (Disclosure: Ms. McGaw is the wife of this story’s author.) She said keeping the transfer station is maintaining a “broken system” because people will continue to share stickers and recycling rates will remain low. 

She urged council members to go with a pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) system, which she said will give residents an incentive to cut down on their solid waste and recycle more. (Mr. Hamilton said PAYT is an option the town can explore down the road.)

Besides cutting down on abuse, Ms. McGaw said going with curbside also benefits elderly residents, who have trouble lifting heavy barrels at the compactor. 

Council member J. Mark Ryan favored curbside pickup for similar reasons, saying it would make life easier for elderly, “decrepit” residents like his sister.

Some older residents, however, said they still like going to the transfer station. One of them was Joanne Emerson, who said she’s lived in town for 28 years and doesn’t have a child in the school system.

“I want something for my money,” she said.

Another resident, Julie Eldridge, is also a frequent user of the transfer station. “I am decrepit. I’m almost 80 years old and I’m five feet tall,” she said. “When I can’t do it anymore, someone will do it for me.” 

If the town went to curbside pickup, Ms. Eldridge said she’d have to “shlep those bins” out to the street anyway, regardless of the weather. In addition, pickup happens only once a week, she noted, while she can go to the transfer station most any time.

‘Loud and clear’

Council member Elizabeth Pedro also favored keeping the transfer station the way it is now and said switching to curbside wouldn’t necessarily cut down on abuse such as sticker-sharing. “I’ve already heard people say, ‘Well if we go to curbside, we can go in together.’ We’re going to lose there, too,” she said.

Residents “have spoken loud and clear,” Ms. Pedro said. “I want people to have a choice. If we go to curbside, they don’t have a choice.” 

Council member David Gleason also was against curbside pickup, saying it leaves behind smelly puddles and causes traffic congestion. “We don’t need it in our streets,” he said.

Council member Linda Ujifusa, who voted against keeping the transfer station, responded by saying that “puddle” is now in her van. “How is that any better” she asked.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.