HANSON — New Bedford Waste Services will extend its recycling contract with the town for two weeks — sending a truck to empty full containers at the transfer station Wednesday, Dec. 4 — while lawyers for the company and the town iron out a contractual dispute.
That impasse, which led to unpaid bills by the town, had been halted. At issue was whether emails advising the town of increased fees under the “uncontrollable circumstances” clause of the contract were sent by the company or received by the town.
NBWS President Michael Camara met in a joint session with Selectmen and the Board of Health on Tuesday, Dec. 3.
He said the uncontrollable circumstance was the solid waste disposal crisis in the state since China stopped accepting recyclable waste in 2017 — a time when they were handling 55 percent of global recyclables, including 4,400 containers a day from the United States.
“If we could absorb the losses, I wouldn’t be here tonight,” Camara said.
Selectman Jim Hickey suggested it was improper to discuss whether the town would be shopping around for a better rate from another company in Camara’s presence as some members of the two boards had begun discussing.
“I think its rude to talk about other companies in front of this gentleman when he just said, in good faith, he’ll pick us up for the next two weeks,” Hickey said. “I would rather have a quick contract signed to get us through Christmas … at the new rate and let the lawyers go through [the issue].”
The Board of Selectmen agreed that it was an idea worth running by Town Counsel for an opinion.
Without at least the two week agreement, Hanson residents would be unable to recycle.
Health Board Chairman Arlene Dias said they did receive an email the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 27 saying that, because the town had underpaid the bill, NBWS was not going to pick up Hanson’s recycling.
“What they were billing was not the contract price,” Dias said. “Each month we paid the contract price, and that’s been going on for two years.”
Camara countered that the “uncontrollable circumstances” clause permitted the increase, to which Dias said Town Counsel Jay Talerman disagreed with Camara, and said the suspension of service is in violation of the contract with Hanson.
The contract originally charged the town nothing, unilaterally opting to charge $65.98 per ton in October 2017.
“Such increase was done without reasonable or proper notice and is, itself, a questionable practice under the contract,” Talerman wrote in a letter read by Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett. “While the town reserves the right to challenge such [an] increase, it nevertheless made ensuing payments in good faith so as to ensure the provision of complying in recycling services.”
Talerman said at no point since October 2017 did the company advise the town of increases in recycling costs, but bills received have been in excess of $65.98 per ton. Talerman concluded that the town was paying the proper amount of $65.98 per ton, rather than the $93.75 per ton — including a surcharge — demanded by NBWS.
“So we’re at a standoff,” said FitzGerald-Kemmett.
Camara said another family member — MBWS is a family-owned business — sent emails explaining the increase.
“I find it astounding that you would believe that somebody would be sending an email to our town telling us that you are going to suspend services if we don’t increase, and if we want to have a conversation — and that nobody here at Town Hall responded,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said.
“We’re billing you market rates, we’re not making a dime on it,” Camara said.
“I appreciate the situation you’re in,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “But to unilaterally, without discussing … According to our attorney, we don’t owe you anything.”
Hickey asked why the board was discussing the issue when it was between the lawyers.
Camara had explained to the board that China’s decision came after that nation’s president saw a video of Chinese workers — men, women and children — burning plastic, “people choking in factories, because they couldn’t breathe … things they couldn’t recycle being dumped in streams and rivers or put outside and burned and the nasty materials were going into their crops and fields where their animals were grazing,” Camara said. In the effort to recycle since then, other nations such as Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam at risk of similar contamination.
Massachusetts banned waste-to-energy facilities 20 years ago, Camara added, adding that his industry is advocating for the lifting of that ban as well as expanding landfills.
Camara’s firm founded Zero Waste in 2013 with the goal of handling recycling and municipal solid waste (MSW).
FitzGerald-Kemmett asked if the company had considered a redundancy plan in case things ever changed with China.
“China was it,” Camara said. Disposal issues have also become an issue as state landfills close and companies have to look out of state to dispose of solid waste.
“There’s no more safety valves,” he said. “Currently, we’re exporting trash to New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia.”
Trash is baled, wrapped in leak-proof, water-tight bags and trucked out to stack it in those states.
“So they’re literally building mountains out there in other states,” observed Selectman Wes Blauss.
“Yes, we are,” Camara said. “It’s sad that the state of Massachusetts doesn’t have a backup plan.”
“Honestly, it seems like you’re getting it from all sides,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said. “It’s not our intention to add to that, but you know where we’re coming from.”