The Ulster County Resource Recovery Agency has turned down a request by Kingston Mayor Steve Noble to continue to accept single-stream recycling as the city transitions back to a dual-stream system. The decision this week leaves city officials scrambling for a way to process hundreds of tons of mixed recyclables with just two weeks before a deadline.
Since 2011, UCRRA has accepted single-stream recycling at its processing facility on Route 32 despite the fact that it did not have the facilities to process the commingled waste. Instead, the agency would transfer the recyclables — most of which came from the City of Kingston — onto trucks or roll-off containers for shipment to a single-stream processing facility in Beacon. The agency charged Kingston $20 per ton for the service. In June, in response to changes in the recycling market and other fiscal pressures, UCRRA’s board of directors voted to stop accepting single stream material as of Dec. 31.
After deciding that it would not be feasible to transfer single-stream recyclables to Beacon themselves or pay a private hauler for the service, city officials reluctantly decided to return to a dual-stream system, where residents and businesses will have to once again separate paper and cardboard from cans and bottles.
Last month, the Kingston Common Council approved Noble’s request to borrow $400,000 to purchase 6,800 recycling totes to facilitate the change. (A state grant is expected to pay half the total cost of the totes.). But, Noble said, the city needed more time to purchase and distribute the containers and educate the public about the return to dual-stream recycling. On Dec. 12, the mayor met with UCRRA’s board of directors for two hours to plead with the agency to continue to accept single-stream recycling through June 2019 in order to ease the transition.
If UCRRA doesn’t cut Kingston a break, Noble told the board, the city would need to reopen a transfer station on Boulevard starting Jan. 1 and assign personnel to transfer the material onto roll-off containers for transport to Beacon. Besides the personnel costs, Noble said, there was simply not enough floor space at the transfer station to accommodate the multiple truckloads of recyclables hauled in each day.
“One load fills that whole building,” said Noble. “There is no way we’re going to be able to move that much material with the space that we have.”
Following the meeting, Noble said that he was “positively optimistic” that the board had heard his concerns and would work with the city during the transition period. That optimism was dashed on Dec. 18 when he received a letter indicating that UCRRA would stick to its Dec. 31 deadline. In the letter, UCRRA Executive Director Tim Rose said that the board’s decision came after board member Charlie Landi, a former Kingston alderman, and agency operations manager Charlie Whittaker inspected the city’s transfer station and determined that it could indeed accommodate the city’s needs during the transition period. Rose added that the agency had already reached out to Republic Services in Beacon who indicated that they had the resources to take on the city’s recyclables and to the state Department of Conservation, where officials said that the city would not need any additional permits to reopen the transfer station.
“In light of these findings, I have been directed by the Board of Directors to inform you that the City’s request for the Agency to extend the deadline for the acceptance of [single-stream recycling] has been denied,” Rose wrote.
Cuts like a knife
Noble, who once served on the UCRRA board and helped oversee the city’s transition to single-stream recycling, reacted to the news with uncharacteristic anger. Noble said that he believed Rose’s assertions in the letter were “factually inaccurate” and blasted the agency for failing to operate in accordance with its mission as a public service agency. In an email, Noble called on the Ulster County Legislature, which oversees UCRRA, to “appoint individuals to the board in the future that will actually fulfill the agency’s responsibilities and represent the needs of our constituents.” Noble went on to point out that UCRRA had once turned a profit off of the city’s commingled recyclables.
“Yet, now instead of working with our community to develop an appropriate transition plan, UCRRA has turned its back,” Noble wrote. “Other communities in Ulster County should take note of how that ‘public service agency’ treats a municipality once it can’t make money off of it.”