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MOSA’s outlook is short on garbage

MOSA’s outlook is short on garbage

Bury it, burn it or haul it. Some think those should be options for MOSA, the unpopular three-county

Bury it, burn it or haul it.

Some think those should be options for MOSA, the unpopular three-county waste-disposal organization. But in reality, they are possible options for the trash that MOSA tries to organize from three counties: dig a new landfill, build a multimillion-dollar burn plant to turn trash into energy or buy equipment and ship waste to other states via the rail system.

But officials at the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie solid waste management authority say there’s one major issue confronting future efforts: they don’t have enough garbage.

MOSA, which serves as the planning unit for the three-county waste stream, commissioned the Virgina-based consulting firm Gershman, Brickner & Bratton to study possible waste disposal options.

The contract binding the three-county waste stream will expire in 2014. Some officials say cooperation with the public authority is the last thing that will happen, but others believe the three counties could find relief from the costly responsibility by pooling their efforts with others in the region.

“This service area is not sufficient enough to have the economy of scale. It’s got to be dealt with in a much broader perspective,” MOSA director Gil Chichester said.

MOSA operates like other governmental entities. It’s run by a board of directors who vote on measures and operations are administered by staff.

But members of the board of directors are appointed by their county governments, each with their own goals and ideas. In this three-county region, the result of this relationship has been negative, with officials ultimately blaming each other for the high cost of getting rid of garbage.

Several officials in Montgomery County believe there’s no chance of maintaining a relationship with MOSA. The study, however, represents MOSA’s effort towards planning for the future.

Consultants outlined four possibilities for what to do with roughly 100,000 tons of trash produced in the three counties. The first step in all of them is finding other regions willing to cooperate and add another 100,000 tons of garbage to the pool.

Costs are estimated for a waste-to-energy plant, a landfill and using the rail system to haul garbage away.

WASTE TO ENERGY

One of the four methods explored, gassification, is a method of burning waste and creating a synthetic fuel. It’s still in the development phase, and the costs are unknown.

In general, a facility similar to ones used in Europe burns garbage, fueling a boiler to create steam and generate electricity. The ash that’s created has to be wetted down, causing it to weigh about 25 percent as much as the garbage that’s brought in.

With the constraints of current technology, the wet ash would have to be trucked to a landfill at an estimated cost of $60 per ton.

Seeking to take advantage of “economies of scale,” GBB developed estimates for a facility to burn 750 tons of municipal waste a day or 250,000 tons per year, about twice the amount of garbage produced in the MOSA region.

Burning that garbage to run steam-fueled generators would power about 15,000 homes, while using 10 percent of the electricity to run the plant itself, according to the study.

There are 87 waste-to-energy facilities in the U.S., 400 in Europe, 100 in Japan and another 70 in other places around the world, according to the report.

Comparing construction costs incurred in other projects, GBB estimates that a regional waste-to-energy facility could cost $169 million including design, permitting, construction, equipment, connecting with an electrical utility and other steps.

If a planning unit were to borrow money through bonding to build such a plant, the resultant cost including interest is estimated at nearly $235 million.

REGIONAL LANDFILL

An effort years ago to site a landfill in Montgomery County fueled public outcry and sparked hatred among some for MOSA even considering such a thought. Currently, the trash from Montgomery, Otsego and Schoharie counties is trucked hundreds of miles to landfills in western New York — which takes up roughly 60 percent of the $106-per-ton cost to drop garbage off at MOSA facilities.

According to the report, landfill development would require between 85 and 100 acres of land, with costs of pre-construction development including buying land estimated at roughly $5 million.

With borrowing, construction and developing landfill cells, the total cost for a landfill developed in one of the three counties is estimated at $26.1 million in the year 2014.

TRASH ON A TRAIN

Consultants also reviewed the possibility of using freight trains for fuel efficiency.

Elements in a railway approach are complicated and depend on scheduling with carriers.

Trains carry a variety of items, and customers have to buy rail cars to load the garbage onto, build a rail siding that can be used to load garbage after it’s collected and offload it when it gets near the landfill.

A plan considered workable would entail trucking loose waste from Amsterdam to Oneonta, loading train containers and bringing them to a loading yard near Amsterdam or Fonda.

The idea would be to load trash on containers in Montgomery County, ship them by train to Selkirk and from there the train company could ship the trash to the EnviroSolutions Big Run Landfill in Kentucky, a five-day trip.

To accomplish this, a waste planning unit such as MOSA would have to buy about 78 rail cars at an estimated cost of $75,000 apiece.

The capital cost estimate to gear up for rail hauling is roughly $11.7 million.

This includes $4.5 million to $5.9 million for rail cars, $1 million for a loader to work with them and between $3.8 million and $4.8 million for containers that fit on the rail cars.

MOSA board member David Parker, an Otsego County representative, said he doesn’t support a landfill because he believes waste-to-energy methods are more environmentally friendly.

“Burying things makes no sense to me,” Parker said.

Parker admits the $169 million cost to build a waste-to-energy facility is more than three counties could bear.

But he believes federal financial incentives, a push for renewable energy sources and the existence of additional garbage in a 50-mile radius from MOSA’s headquarters in Howes Cave are elements that favor considering the idea.

Going their own way?

In Montgomery County, where scars remain following a failed process to site a landfill and relationships between the authority and officials are strained, future planning at this point focuses only on getting out of the arrangement that created MOSA.

“I’m opposed to [MOSA] taking on any new enterprise. There’s no way I’d support anything like that the way it’s structured now,” said Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairman John B. Thomas.

Thomas said a burn plant near Hudson Falls is in need of garbage, and he believes finding facilities on an individual county basis might be cheaper.

“It would be most beneficial for Montgomery County to go to Hudson Falls. It’s closer; it’s more cost-effective,” Thomas said.

“I think if the state of New York is asking us to consolidate, share services and all that stuff, they should take the lead,” Thomas said.

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