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March 21, 2014

Casella in line to be Otsego trash partner

By Joe Mahoney Staff writer
The Daily Star

---- — The final curtain is near for the regional solid waste authority known as MOSA, and two key committees of Otsego County lawmakers are signaling they want Vermont-based Casella Waste Systems to be its partner in managing trash disposal.

Meanwhile, the state Senate passed a measure Thursday that calls for the dissolution of the Montgomery Otsego Schoharie Solid Waste Management Authority on April 30. The legislation must be passed by the Assembly before it can be signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The agency was created 25 years ago under the theory that three rural counties working together were better off to have a public authority oversee trash management than each one going it alone. The MOSA board, made up of representatives of each of the three counties, gradually became divided over a variety of issues, and officials from Otsego County, in particular, questioned MOSA’s efficiency.

“I know the governor wants to consolidate services, but this arrangement has not worked,” said Otsego County Rep. Linda Rowinski, D-Oneonta, the chairwoman of the county’s Solid Waste and Environmental Concerns Committee. 

Her panel and the Administration Committee, led by Rep. Edwin Frazier Jr., R-Unadilla, both gave the green light this week to Casella, a company that was formed in 1975 in Rutland, Vt., and now operates throughout the Northeast. Casella opened Vermont’s first recycling center.

“We are leading the solid waste industry with an innovative business strategy that seeks to create sustainable value beyond the traditional disposal model,” Casella states on its web site. “We view waste as a resource for producing renewable energy and a raw material for manufacturing new products.”

Otsego County residents, Rowinski said, will likely notice no changes in how their trash is taken away by private haulers.

 “There really should be no difference for anyone, and the rates people pay shouldn’t be going up,” she said.

The waste will be taken to public landfills that Casella manages outside the county, she said. Private haulers are expected to pay a tipping fee of an estimated $55 to $60 per ton, considerably less than the $72 rate that MOSA has been charging, she added.

In addition, with MOSA dissolving, Otsego County will no longer be financially penalized for not meeting the Guaranteed Annual Tonnage (GAT) expected by the authority. That minimum level had been set by MOSA, and the tonnage produced by Otesego County was invariably below the GAT. 

“I think we have a good deal worked out,” Rowinski said. “All the forces came together. The attorneys for the three counties are having weekly talks on the phone. All the ducks are in a row. Right now, we’re just waiting for the governor to sign off on the home rule bill, and then everyone can move forward.”

The counties have agreed to have Montgomery County assume the management responsibilities for closed landfills that will continue to require monitoring. Those costs will be shared by the same percentages used to divide the tab for MOSA’s operations - 42 percent for Montgomery County, 40 percent for Otsego County and 18 percent for Schoharie County.

Rep. Keith McCarty, R-Springfield, who has represented Otsego County on the MOSA board, said he was pleased that the county will be finally cutting ties with the authority.

 “This will give us a little more control over what happens,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about the authority getting us into debt.”

The authority’s remaining liquid assets have been estimated at about $4 million. That money is expected to be divided up by the three counties, based on their respective stakes in MOSA,, officials said.

Casella will take over the management of the two existing MOSA transfer stations in Otsego County, one located in Fly Creek, and the other in the town of Oneonta. The company is expected to offer jobs to some employees of the authority, Rowinski said.

“This has been a long time coming,” McCarty said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Guiding Otsego County’s planning department through the effort to break apart from MOSA has been its trash consultant, Hans Arnold. The full county board is expected to take up the proposed contract with Casella in early April.

The legislation authorizing the dissolution of MOSA was sponsored by state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford. 

“Each member county has put in a great deal of time and effort planning for the future solid waste disposal needs of their residents,” Seward said. “This state legislation will allow them to move forward.”

(The original version of this story contained an error in the second paragraph regarding whether the Assembly has passed its version of the measure.)