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Recycling officials eye public-private partnership

Lawrence Pierce
Work crews sort cardboard at the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority's Slack Street recycling center. A company based in Chicago wants to lease the old building from the authority and sell the county's recyclable materials.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Local officials trying to revive Kanawha County's flagging recycling program hope a Chicago businessman will be able to come to the rescue.

Members of the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority voted Tuesday to sign a letter of intent with businessman George Hunyadi to take over operations of the Slack Street Recycling Center in Charleston.

Members of the Solid Waste Authority shut down the 100-year-old Slack Street recycling building and its machinery in March because of safety concerns, severely hobbling the county's recycling program. Recycling at Slack Street has dropped from about 600 tons a month before the shutdown to about 100 tons a month.

Members of the Solid Waste Authority have been trying to figure out a way to salvage the recycling program since before the shutdown. Meanwhile, county officials and members of the Charleston Area Alliance set up a special task force to come up with their own recommendations on how to save the program.

On Tuesday, Hunyadi registered West Virginia Recycling Services as a corporation with the Secretary of State's Office. The company is a spin-off of Chicago-based Draw Enterprises, which runs recycling programs in other parts of the country.

Rod Watkins, a member of the Solid Waste Authority, said Hunyadi wants to lease the idled Slack Street building from the Solid Waste Authority for a fee based on recycling tonnage. Hunyadi would in turn sell the recyclable materials that come through Slack Street to make money.

"I want it to work," said Solid Waste Authority chairwoman Kay Summers. "I think this may be our answer."

Hunyadi told solid waste officials on Tuesday that he thought it would take about 800 tons of recyclables coming through Slack Street every month to make the idea profitable. State officials and members of the task force put the figure at 1,000 tons a month.

"That's the magic number that's being thrown around the task force," said Matt Ballard, executive director of the Charleston Area Alliance and head of the recycling task force.

Either way, local officials think Kanawha County could generate more recyclables than it does.

"We were close to 800 tons at one time during a peak," Watkins said. "We never really had a good educational program and presented [the recycling program] like we should have. We think if we do that we can generate at least 800 tons a month."

"[West Virginia Recycling Services] have done a lot of due diligence," Summers agreed. "They feel there's a lot of untapped potential here."

Under the proposed public-private partnership with Hunyadi, solid waste officials would be able to put money generated from the lease fees into education and other programs to try to get more county residents to recycle.

 Details of the proposed deal have yet to be worked out. But Ballard said members of the recycling task force -- several of whom attended Tuesday's Solid Waste Authority meeting -- think Hunyadi's proposal could work.

"I think a public-private partnership is the way it's going to have to go," Ballard said. "We hope this will work out."

Ballard offered the assistance of the recycling task force if the Solid Waste Authority needs any help.

The stumbling block to the proposal might be the crumbling Slack Street building itself.

Hunyadi told the Solid Waste board he believed he could renovate the 100-year-old structure and put it back into operation for $250,000 to $300,000. The Solid Waste Authority would have done that already, but cost estimates to either repair the building or to tear it down to start from scratch exceeded $1 million.

The recycling task force plans to issue a report in about three weeks recommending possible solutions to rescue the recycling program. Ballard said the task force would continue with its work in case Hunyadi's proposal falls through.

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


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