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Towns Hoping To Dump CRRA, Save Money

JOSH KOVNER

November 15, 2009

Dozens of contracts between individual towns and the state's regional trash giant are expiring in the next two years, and a group representing a swath of communities from Hartford to the Litchfield Hills will take the first step next week to form its own solid-waste authority.

These towns and cities are looking to beat the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority's $63- to $69-per-ton fee to dispose of millions of tons of garbage a year.

They are looking for more direct control a board made up exclusively of representatives of member communities, rather than CRRA's mixture of gubernatorial and legislative appointees.

Forty-two towns and cities have told the Capitol Region Council of Governments that they are interested in exploring a regional authority and have sent in $500 each in seed money to start the process of creating one. The council is expected to approve the expenditure Wednesday.

The action will provide a glimpse of the post-CRRA landscape, the period, around 2012, when many of the 20-year municipal contracts run out and communities look for other alliances.

"Towns and cities want to be masters of their own destiny," said Lyle Wray, executive director of the council of governments. "They want to save money and respond more quickly to the rapid changes in technology, such as the recycling of food scraps."

There are 70 communities in the CRRA's Mid-Connecticut Project sending tons of trash per day to the agency's incinerator and recycling center in the South Meadows of Hartford.

The council of governments' Jennifer March-Wackers said that the outreach to towns and cities is continuing and that the council hopes most or all of the 70 communities will join the new authority. After the legal work, she said, the next step is to solicit proposals from waste-disposal firms that want to do business with the new authority. She said the CRRA would be welcome to compete.

Many town officials have wearied of the CRRA, the agency that lost $220 million in the Enron collapse. Communities had to go to court over fee increases stemming from the loss.

"The CRRA was formed to help towns dispose of solid waste efficiently," said West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka. "Instead, the relationship over the years has turned on its head. They dictate terms to the members. This is a bureaucracy that exists to perpetuate itself."

CRRA spokesman Paul Nonnenmacher said the agency isn't going anywhere and wants the area's business. He said that there are four representatives of Mid-Connecticut Project towns on the agency's 11-member board and that the agency has been responsive to new recycling technologies. He said, for example, that the amount and types of plastic packaging material accepted at the Hartford recycling plant has just been significantly expanded.

At the same time, he said, "We expect that towns are going to investigate options to make sure they get the best price."

"If it's us, great," Nonnenmacher said. "If it's someone else, well, good for the town. We hope everyone stays, but we're not naive enough to think we're going to be 70 for 70."

He said he was aware that Mid-Connecticut Project towns are expressing interest in a CRRA alternative.

"What, are they going to have a 42-member board? See, at some point you have to have some kind of a republic to represent the member towns," said Nonnenmacher.

"Let us worry about the makeup of our board," said East Hartford Mayor Melody Currey, adding that appointees would likely represent several contiguous communities.

"The point is, we want direct control over our municipal solid waste," Currey said. "This is an exciting time."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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