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Recycling program may go private

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority is inching toward privatizing the county's recycling program.

"Without public funding, we cannot build a facility," Solid Waste Authority board member Rod Watkins said at an emergency meeting of the board on Wednesday.

"To me, our only answer is working hand-in-hand with the private sector."

In March, the solid waste board voted to shut down the Solid Waste Authority's recycling sorting facility on Slack Street because of safety concerns in the 100-year-old building that houses the equipment. The board has since reopened Slack Street as a drop-off point for the public with reduced hours, but abandoning the facility's baling and sorting equipment has crippled efforts to collect and sell recyclable materials.

Outgoing Solid Waste Authority Director Norm Steenstra said revenues have been slashed by more than half since the initial closure. Cities that used to bring their recycling to Slack Street made other arrangements and are taking their materials to Nitro or Beckley, and the solid waste board recently fired half of the staff at Slack Street.

Steenstra himself is resigning effective Sept. 26.

With revenue slowing to a trickle and no significant funding from local or state government on the horizon to dig the authority out of its financial hole, board members said Wednesday they're running out of options.

"We're at Ground Zero," said board member Kasey Russell. "We have no plan.

"We have a blank sheet of paper, so let's make a plan."

Russell said she has already spoken with officials for garbage haulers Waste Management to see if they might be interested in picking up recyclables in unincorporated parts of the county. Waste Management officials have not wanted to pick up the materials in the past because they said there wasn't enough participation in recycling, but Russell said they might be interested now if enough county residents can be convinced to recycle to make it worth Waste Management's time and expense.

Board member Greg Sayre, a lobbyist for recyclers and garbage haulers who also works for West Virginia Cashin Recyclables in Nitro, said haulers and processors of recyclables would have to see an advantage to taking over recycling duties for the Solid Waste Authority.

"You have two parts to the private sector," he said. "You have the part that collects and the part that processes, and they're not always the same people."

Sayre and other board members want to have a meeting with private haulers and recyclers to see if privatizing the recycling program is an option.

Meanwhile, solid waste officials are trying to keep the program afloat. On Wednesday, the board voted to apply for a state grant to allow them to keep collecting electronics at Slack Street.

Hours at the Slack Street drop-off center have again been reduced, with the center open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. "That will save an hour a day, as far as paying someone," said Steenstra. He said Saturday hours would remain the same.

Also Wednesday, the board appointed Solid Waste Authority business manager Jeannie Gunter as interim director to replace Steenstra. The board directed Steenstra to spend his remaining time with the authority determining the costs to tear down the century-old building.

Steenstra said there is probably asbestos on the roof of the structure, which used to be a power plant. The site may also be contaminated with PCBs.

The solid waste board has considered moving to several different sites around the county, but have come to the conclusion that remaining on Slack Street makes the most sense if money can be found to tear down the old building and put up a new facility.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.

 


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