As the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority nears the end of its 25-year services contract in 2014, Montgomery County is scrambling for an exit strategy.
County Planner Doug Greene requested proposals in late December for a new solid waste plan from 20 area consultants.
“We’ve been needing to get a plan together for a few years now,” he said.
All county municipalities except the city of Amsterdam currently hire out trash removal services to independent contractors. Those contractors bring trash from street corners to MOSA transfer stations, paying $68 a ton to ship it by tractor-trailer to a landfill near Syracuse.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation requires municipalities to work together under some sort of larger waste disposal system, so by the time MOSA’s contract runs out in, a new system must legally be in place.
Proposals will be accepted through mid-February, and a consultant will be chosen by the end of March. Greene said that will give the hired company a year to gather trash data and run cost analysis programs to create the best possible system.
As it turns out, there are many ways to handle trash disposal. Though he admitted a lack of expertise in such matters, Greene ran through a few possibilities.
The current system covers three counties, but DEC regulations allow for some flexibility. Montgomery County could take over trash removal, or several municipalities could develop their own waste management plan, independent of the county.
There are even a few more daring options.
“Some places are using solid waste to generate jobs,” he said, explaining that if recycling wasn’t sorted from conventional trash by residents, a handful of people could be hired at a sorting facility.
“It could be sort of an industry,” he said, adding that any plan must be cost-effective.
Striking a different tone from Otsego and Montgomery counties is Schoharie County. MOSA vice chairman Philip Skowfoe Jr., Fulton town supervisor, said there are a host of variables yet to be determined and he’s not yet convinced Otsego County will leave the partnership.
Even if it does, Skowfoe said it’s conceivable Schoharie and Montgomery counties could operate a waste system together.
“I think we could. There’s a lot of options on the table,” he said.
There have been suggestions Schoharie County consider teaming up with Albany or other neighboring counties, but Skowfoe said he’s not convinced a major change will be needed. Following financial and structural changes at MOSA over the past several years, Skowfoe said the authority’s operation is as efficient as it ever has been.
“If you look at the cost of MOSA right now, I don’t think any county can do it as cheap,” he said.
Schoharie County hasn’t made any formal decisions regarding the development of a new waste management plan post-MOSA, and Skowfoe said he believes there’s time to weigh options before the county would plan to go it alone.
“Right now, I think the option with MOSA is the best option,” he said.
Even with a year for planning, the transition from MOSA would likely be rushed. Once the consultants get a plan drafted, municipalities still have to agree on it. Greene worries planning might have started too late.
As the end date closes in, MOSA Executive Director Dennis Heaton said he’s confused about what will become of his organization. He pointed out MOSA will still own transfer stations and machinery. When the service contract runs out April 30, 2014, he thinks independent waste companies, contractors and the like will still use the facilities.
Even if the transfer stations do close, MOSA will have to stay around in some form to manage the landfills it closed in its 25 years. In 2013 alone, the three counties will pitch in a total of $600,000 to maintain the capped landfills.
“It will take action by the state Legislature to dissolve MOSA,” he said, “so even after 2014, I think we’ll still be here.”