Portsmouth will also issue RFP to keep transfer station as is

Request will go out to bidders in December

By Jim McGaw
Posted 1/23/24

PORTSMOUTH — Fans of the transfer station finally got what they wanted at Monday night’s Town Council meeting.

Before a crowd of about 200 in the Portsmouth High School auditorium, …

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Portsmouth will also issue RFP to keep transfer station as is

Request will go out to bidders in December


PORTSMOUTH — Fans of the transfer station finally got what they wanted at Monday night’s Town Council meeting.

Before a crowd of about 200 in the Portsmouth High School auditorium, the council voted 6-1 to issue a separate request for proposals (RFP) to maintain the operation of the transfer station and its current services as they exist now. Council member Charles Levesque voted in the minority. 

The new RFP will be issued later this year and is separate from two other RFPs the council unanimously approved on Oct. 23, 2023:

1) One is to develop a town-wide curbside collection program, which would provide for bulky waste to be picked up curbside for an additional cost to each resident. The town would seek just one vendor for the job in order to reduce costs for enrolled residents.

2) The other is to prepare an RFP for curbside collection, but to keep the transfer station open for bulky waste and diversion materials from noon to 7 p.m. on Thursday, and from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Proponents of keeping the transfer station the way it is waited a long time for Monday’s vote. 

The council first directed the administrative staff, in a unanimous vote in October 2022, to develop an RFP for a “hybrid” program to keep the transfer station open for diversionary or bulky items while also offering curbside pickup for all. In May 2023, the council reviewed the draft RFP for a hybrid program before voting 4-3 to advertise it. 

Although both meetings were duly advertised, featured lively debate, and were covered by The Portsmouth Times, some residents said they didn’t learn about the matter until September 2023, when Public Works Director Brian Woodhead was on a council agenda to ask for clarification on the RFP. So many people turned out to Town Hall that the matter was delayed until Oct. 23 so residents could be accommodated in the larger venue at PHS.

Council member David Gleason then included an agenda item on the Nov. 27 docket that requested the RFP include an option for bids to “keep the transfer station open, in its entirety, as currently operating." The Town Hall chambers once again exceeded its legal capacity, so the agenda item was moved to PHS for a meeting three days later.

However, discussion on the proposed East Main Road roundabout was also moved to Nov. 30 due to overcrowding, and debate on that controversial issue went on too long to allow the transfer station RFP request to be heard that same night. It was tabled until January.

Petition submitted

“This is try No. 3,” Gleason quipped Monday night, before turning things over to his wife, Karen Gleason, who led a team of residents that collected nearly 1,300 signatures.

“They’re signatures on a petition from people who want to keep the transfer station,” she said.

Council President Kevin Aguiar said the petition is certainly worthy of being part of the backup material for the agenda, but there was no way the council could validate all the names on the document. “I don’t consider it as an official verification,” Aguiar said.

Gleason said most people like the transfer station because it’s a lower-cost method of disposing trash than curbside, and it makes it convenient for residents to recycle and dispose of diversionary items.

Council Vice President Leonard Katzman began his remarks by pointing out that most residents in town have already voted on their preferred waste disposal method with their wallets, since about two-thirds of residents pay private curbside haulers to take their trash.

“As to whether or not that petition represents a majority of people who say they want the transfer station open? As evidenced by the literal majority of Portsmouth residents who don’t have transfer station stickers, it’s not the majority,” Katzman said.

He also reminded residents the council had no nefarious plans with its previous RFPs, and that it simply wanted to get a price on a town-wide curbside program so it could understand all of the options going forward.

“We have repeatedly said the council is not taking any action to close the transfer station,” said Katzman, who repeated the line three more times for effect. “And yet, folks choose not to believe.”

Katzman then surprised some in the audience by making a motion to issue a separate RFP “to operate the transfer station in its entirety with all its current services,” which was met with a smattering of applause.

His motion differed from David Gleason’s idea in that Gleason was requesting that the current RFP include an option for bids to keep the transfer station open in its entirety, as currently operating.

That’s not the best approach, argued Katzman, who said adding that as an option could reduce the number of companies that will submit a bid for the transfer station operations. “It shouldn’t be added to the current RFP; it should be its own separate RFP,” he said.

Residents could purchase transfer station stickers under one enterprise fund, or they could purchase a curbside service under its own enterprise fund. Residents could even choose to purchase both, he said.

David Gleason seconded Katzman’s motion, saying it seemed to be a “happy medium.”

RFP will wait for now

Council member Daniela Abbott said Katzman’s idea was a bad approach to municipal bidding. “Putting out contradictory RFPs … is shooting ourselves in the foot and very bad strategy,” she said, noting that transfer station is under contract until mid-2025. Submitting the new RFP later on would make more sense, she said.

Aguiar agreed. “Why would a vendor give us a price in the next three or four months for services that aren’t needed until July 2025?” he asked.

“To a certain extent, the motion I’ve made tonight is stupid,” Katzman acknowledged. “But it is, I believe, necessary to provide an approach that will satisfy the most people in town.”

Ultimately, the council voted 6-1 to prepare the new and separate RFP, but to wait until December to release it to bidders. Aguiar assured residents that the RFP will be discussed in open session once a recommendation is made by administration on the returned bids.

The council president, who called himself a “transfer station person,” also warned residents about the aging facility, which was built in the 1970s. 

“Going forward, the reality is the transfer station is functionally obsolete. It’s too small to service the entire town,” he said, adding that fewer and fewer people use it each year. And if one of the motors goes, the town will have to go out to bond to fix it, Aguiar said. The expense of keeping it running may eventually outweigh its usefulness, he said.

Residents speak

The transfer station still has plenty of fans however, as evidenced by those who took to the microphone Monday night. 

“I don’t want a bin,” said Siobhan Thurston, of Union Street, adding it would cost her anywhere from $800 to $1,200 annually for curbside pickup compared to the $385 she’s paying for 18 months of the transfer station. “Don’t kill something because it’s old. It works. We need it. Please hear your constituents.”

Albert Fanning, of Richard Drive, said he didn’t care that the transfer station sticker fees keep going up. “There is no way I enjoy filling up the back of my Explorer every Saturday. However, there is a convenience factor,” he said.

Nancy Grieb, of Thayer Drive, said she’s also in favor of keeping the transfer station as is. “Curbside provides messy roads, messy trash and very expensive trash solutions,” she said.

Portsmouth transfer station, Portsmouth Town Council

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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.