China transfer station committee looks into relationship with Palermo

by Mary Grow

China Transfer Station Committee members’ April 16 discussion of use and abuse of the waste disposal facility ranged from minutely detailed to widely philosophical.

Two issues dominated, the free for the taking building and relations with Palermo. Palermo residents share use of China’s facility under a contract that China Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood finds unsatisfactory.

The free for the taking building is intended as a swap shop, where people leave things they no longer use but believe other people would. Often, they’re right – station manager Thomas Maraggio said the great majority of items are picked up immediately.

However, as committee chairman Christopher Baumann said, free for the taking is not the same as free for the leaving. Transfer station attendants charge a fee for items they will pay to dispose of – couches were an often-cited example. If the person who left a paid-for item is still there when someone claims it, the fee is refunded.

Some people object to the fee, or try to smuggle in valueless things. Staff members or security cameras often catch them.

Committee member James Hsiang characterized such behavior as abuse of the system. Maraggio and committee member Rachel Anderson said instances are rare.

Most people believe someone else will use their discards, Anderson said – “Ninety-nine percent of people are well-intentioned.” However, the free for the taking building is small, with limited space to store things until a new user claims them.

The 17-year China-Palermo contract, signed June 3, 2016, calls for Palermo to pay an annual $18,000 fee to China, and for Palermo residents to buy special blue bags in which to put their trash. There is no provision for the annual fee to increase (or decrease) over the life of the contract. Disposal fees and bag costs can be adjusted, with six months’ notice to Palermo.

The agreement says identifying decals or window stickers are free. Therefore, when China bought new windshield stickers last year and charged $2 for them, committee and Palermo select board member Robert Kurek said Palermo residents would not pay.

An alternate system was approved, which does not satisfy everyone, leading to occasional arguments between Palermo residents and transfer station staff.

Maraggio said some Palermo residents come in without blue bags. Others bring their trash in black bags, park at the hopper and put each black bag into a blue one, thereby delaying others waiting to use the hopper and doubling plastic use.

The 2016 agreement allows either town to cancel on a year’s notice, for violation of the contract or for just cause. In November 2023, Hapgood sent Palermo the required year’s notice of China’s intent to cancel, citing Palermo residents’ actions.

The two towns’ lawyers are debating the issue.

At the April 16 meeting, Kurek described in detail complaints he received from China and his follow-up discussions with alleged offenders. His point was that the actions described did not amount to a “just cause” to cancel the contract.

He incidentally made the point that different parties’ accounts of the same incident were not always alike.

Baumann and other committee members thanked Kurek for his prompt follow-ups.

Committee member James Hines said China should punish individual repeat offenders, not all Palermo users. Benjamin Weymouth suggested mediation – which is not in the contract, Kurek pointed out.

Hsiang suggested instead of imposing penalties for misusing the transfer station, offering rewards for using it well. He proposed inviting users to enter a contest: each family would have its trash weighed, and every three months those with the least trash – thereby costing taxpayers least, and presumably recycling – would be winners.

Baumann asked Hsiang to develop a more specific plan, with an estimate of costs and time required, and share it before the next meeting, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, May 14.


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