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Bridgewater defends Refuse District

August 18, 2010
BRIDGEWATER—Voters in Hebron will soon have the opportunity to hear the Bridgewater Select Board's perspective on the Hebron -Bridgewater Refuse District dispute.

The Bridgewater board last week announced that they have scheduled an informational session to be held at the Hebron Church on Sept. 7, just prior to the Sept. 9 public hearing on Hebron's proposal to withdraw from the Bridgewater/Hebron Refuse District.

The Hebron Board of Selectmen have called a Special Town Meeting for Tuesday, Sept. 21 to ask voters to consider their proposal for withdrawing from the district due to the high costs associated with operating the small-scale incinerator at the facility and on-going differences about other management issues.

In an interview at the Bridgewater Town Offices last week, the Bridgewater board members said they felt it was important for Hebron voters to hear their point of view before making a decision to withdraw from the District.

Bridgewater board members said that they have been unable to speak at informational meetings called by the Hebron selectmen.

The Bridgewater board vigorously defends the continued operation of the incinerator. While agreeing that incineration is "not the least expensive option" for the district, they maintain that it is a more environmentally responsible alternative than hauling refuse to a landfill.

Board Chair Terry Murphy said the 2003-vintage incinerator burns very clean, emitting less than one-half of one pound of carbon per year.

"It's amazing how little we pollute," said Murphy. "We give off less emissions than one wood stove, whereas a landfill emits methane over the course of 50 to 100 years."

He predicts that the incinerator will easily meet new EPA emissions requirements scheduled to go into effect in January, and says that the district has been preparing for the increased testing required to implement the new standards.

He denies that it will cost the district an additional $50,000 to meet the new testing requirements on the stack, as they have already purchased the necessary equipment and supplies.

With respect to other financial issues, all three select board members said that they have been diligent in sending data files on every transaction at the facility to Hebron on a regular basis, and have not tried to prevent third party review. They said that an external audit of the district was conducted in 2008 by the firm of Bosdick and Sanderson, and the results are publicly available for inspection.

"We never misled anyone about the costs of operating the incinerator," continues Murphy. "From the beginning, we said that it was going to be tough getting through the first 10 years. In 2003, we chose the more difficult path, but in the long run it will give us greater control over our destiny."

Murphy maintains that state landfills are rapidly filling up, and that it will become increasingly difficult and expensive to find a landfill to accept solid waste in the future. He says that when the bond is paid off on the incinerator in 2015, costs will drop dramatically at the facility, and in the long term, the decision will pay off.

Select board Member Hank Woolner said that in the meantime, operational costs have actually been trending downward at the facility in recent years, as the operational team has learned to operate more efficiently. Propane costs have been reduced by "spot" purchases on the market.

Meanwhile, the total volume of propane used at the facility has been reduced by burning less frequently. Total days of burning have been decreased from 105 days per year to 40 days per year, by storing refuse on site for longer periods of time until it can be burned more efficiently in greater volume.

Murphy said that he is not concerned about the financial impact on Bridgewater if Hebron were to vote to withdraw from the district. He said the financial impact would be "negligible" because the volume of refuse being processed would also decrease, and in any event, according to contract, Hebron would still be responsible for covering all "fixed," or capital, costs on site.

Significantly, Bridgewater denies that Hebron owns half the assets at the facility and will be entitled to compensation if it should withdraw from the district.

"The assets of the district are not the property of the individual towns, but of the district," said Murphy. "The district is not being dissolved. Hebron is considering withdrawal. The property will continue to be the property of the district should Hebron decide to leave the district."

Murphy predicts that the costs to Hebron of withdrawing from the district could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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