By RUSSELL JONES
Changes are coming to the transfer station at 31 Corona Street in Brandon, but not the changes the company that runs it, Earth Waste and Metal, was hoping for after the selectboard objected to their withholding of back rent.
They business had asked the town’s selectboard to address a problem at the facility and informed them of a proposed hike in the recycling rates residents would have to pay. The heart of the problem, the business said, is the condition of their building and scales at the station.
In a letter to the town’s selectboard, risk management director Stephanie Elnicki said that they have been running the facility for 15 years and consider the rent they pay to be in exchange for the infrastructure.
They have not paid rent on the property on Corona Street since December and the letter states they would consider reinstating the rental portion of the agreement once the town budgets fixes to improve the building and scales.
Their letter cites a “sad situation” with their office at what is a small shack-like structure, and the scales used to weigh large trucks that have been non-operational since 2017. The heating system has been abandoned due to ventilation issues and they largely depend on a woodstove and an expensive electric heater for warmth in the office.
“We have painted and keep (it) clean and tidy,” Elnicki said in the letter, “but it is really not a safe structure.”
Elnicki said the letter was intended to elicit discussion surrounding the deteriorating infrastructure at the facility and was not written in a confrontational manner.
“That said, the board has not conveyed a willingness to discuss any measures to restore items such as the scale,” she said.
The company also asked the town to plow, salt and sand their road in the winter and announced they would be raising rates on recycling.
In 2018, bills were passed into law by the Vermont legislature that allows facilities such as the one in Brandon to charge a separate fee for the collection of recyclables. The new rates went into effect on April 1, and beginning in June, residents will be required to purchase annual pass stickers at a cost of $24 per year.
Residents will still be required to pay for disposal of recycling at the same rate as trash, in addition to the cost of the annual sticker. The transfer station does brisk business. Rutland County Solid Waste Disposal said in 2018 the Brandon station brought in 355.14 tons of solid waste, 123.1 tons of construction and demolition waste, 24.39 tons of bulky waste (furniture, etc.), and 166.64 tons of recycling material.
The selectboard discussed the issue at the last meeting on April 8.
“I am highly offended by them withholding the rent,” said Doug Bailey, selectman. “I think they are asking for things outside of the contract.”
Earth Waste and Metal signed a contract renewal in 2017, with an agreement to pay $600 a month in rental fees.
“The contract is clear and they are the ones who requested a renewal,” board chair Seth Hopkins said. “They knew what the deal was.”
Town Manager Dave Atherton said that Earth Waste and Metal had been invited to attend the selectboard meeting to discuss the issue, but they did not show.
“It’s important to keep this recycling option open,” said new selectboard member Tim Guiles. “We need to find a way to support them, but we can’t just let them do whatever they want.”
To that effect, the board agreed to plow and sand the roads when needed on the days the station is open. The board also agreed that the transfer station was well within their rights to raise the rates for recycling to keep up with their own increased costs. That left only the matter of the rent.
“They’re asking us to spend an awful lot of money on a facility we don’t own,” said Atherton.
Hopkins said he did not want the Town of Brandon to be in the trash hauling business, nor did he want it to be in the running of a transfer station business.
“I agree,” said Bailey. “But withholding rent is not an appropriate way of doing business.”
Elnicki acknowledged the company did receive a notice of default, as the board is intent on collecting full rent in 2019 and noted that Earth Waste and Metal has contributed over $80,000 thus far to the general fund in their 15 years operating the station. “At this juncture, the default will be cured, and we will continue to serve the community’s recycling and waste collection needs,” Elnicki said of her company’s intention to pay the back rent. “We thank the Brandon public for their patronage and support. We have some outstanding employees at the Brandon Transfer Station who work the facility, despite the growing limitations and challenges. Earth Waste and Metal will explore alternative solutions to address the concerns at the transfer station.”