March 4, 2022

Windham exploring trash collection system modification

Windham's refuse contract with Pine Tree Waste, Inc., also
known as Casella Waste, expires next year and the company
wants the town to convert to an automated trash collection
system in a new contract. COURTESY PHOTO 
By Ed Pierce

One man’s trash may be another man’s treasure, but in renegotiating Windham’s refuse contract, haste doesn’t necessarily mean waste.

During the Feb. 22 Windham Town Council meeting, Windham’s Assistant Town Manager Bob Burns briefed councilors about the renewal status of the town’s Solid Waste and Recyclable Collection Program contract and changes ahead that are needed to be made.

In February 2020, the town entered a three-year contract starting in July 2020 that runs through the end of June 2023 with Pine Tree Waste, Inc. also known as Casella Waste.

According to Burns, that contract was for solid waste and recyclable collection and services at an estimated 5,400 individual stops in the town. Under this system, trash and recyclables are manually collected at the roadside which requires a driver and a laborer.

Burns told councilors that the total annual cost of this contract is $677,250 for this year and $711,113 for the final year.

“Approximately two months ago we learned that Casella Waste did not intend to seek to continue business with Windham if the program as currently scoped was continued,” Burns outlined in a memo to councilors. “Only an automated program would be considered which would consist of trucks with mechanical arms that lift and dump wheeled carts.”

He told councilors that labor shortages have plagued Casella and driven operational costs upward and they feel this is their only option looking forward in our Maine region. Burns said Gorham and Gray are two communities that continue to use manual collection like Windham, but that Westbrook and Scarborough have converted to an automated collection. 

“At our last bid Casella participated, and this collection market has not seen any signs of increased competition since then,” Burns said. “It is unlikely that another bid process will gather any bidders for our current manual collection style program.”

During Windham’s 2020 contract negotiation, Casella Waste proposed an automated collection program for the town for a 10-year contractual period with Year 1 quoted at $695,000 and ending at a cost of $1,078 million in year 10. 

“This 10-year period gives the contractor assurance that the specialized equipment they would purchase could be paid for over time,” Burns said. “Additional costs to the town would include the purchase price of the carts.”

The 2020 price for a small 35-gallon cart costs $37.33 and a large 64-gallon cart costs $42.86. Adjusting for 2022 costs, Burns told councilors he estimated the town’s outlay to purchase carts in 2020 dollars for 5,400 individual stops would be about $250,000. In today’s calculation, that figure is now about $290,000.

“I have asked our Town Attorney Kristin Collins, to determine if we can legally renegotiate our existing contract with Casella Waste at this time and avoid the requirement of having to go back out to competitive bid as it is unlikely that a competitive bid will produce costs any different than a direct negotiation due to a complete lack of competition in this market sector in our area,” Burns said.

But in converting to an automated trash collection system and away from a manual operator attendant system, this also means the end of Windham’s current Pay As You Throw (PAYT) trash bag program where users purchase bags to be picked up by refuse collectors. Windham collected $763,000 in revenue from that system alone in 2021, a record high that Burns attributed to the pandemic.

Not having the PAYT system would mean losing that revenue and increased tipping fees incurred by the town for EcoMaine as residents place improperly bagged waste items in carts that is picked up when the trash truck operator is unable to see what is in the cart below the top.

Burns said that moving ahead with an automated program in Windham will require effort and manpower to ensure that abuse to the system is limited. He acknowledged that the loss of a PAYT system discourages recycling.

Because Windham has many smaller roads and camp roads, Burns said Casella Waste has indicated that they would likely purchase several special smaller sized automated collection trucks just to service smaller and camp roads in Windham.

“Specific areas may have to be determined on these roads for cart placement to avoid narrowing the roads too much,” Burns said.

During a discussion among councilors, Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts suggested that a bond issue can be done which would build the cost of refuse collection into any new contract.

“We need to do some real homework on this and to lay out our different options for you,” Tibbetts said.

Burns said that the town is aiming to come up with the framework of an agreement with Casella by April so that would give them ample time to purchase any necessary equipment they would need for conversion to an automated system.

Any new contract with Casella would have to be approved by members of the Windham Town Council. <

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