The notion of privatizing Hanover’s town dump was so universally unpopular during last week’s annual Town Meeting that residents rewrote an article to forbid officials from pursuing the measure, and the president of the company interested in running the transfer station publicly revoked his proposal.
The question was added to the warrant by the Board of Selectmen, who saw it as a potential cost-cutting measure. According to the Department of Public Works, the transfer station’s annual operating budget is $960,550.
In Massachusetts, 150 of the state’s 351 cities and towns use drop-off facilities (rather than curbside pick up) for municipal trash services, according to a report from the state Department of Environmental Protection. But only 38 of the 217 transfer stations are privately run. In the southeastern region, seven of the 62 transfer stations are privately run — in Braintree, Dedham, Middleborough, Rochester, Whitman, and two in Brockton.
“The Board of Selectmen have a policy to look at privatization and look at ways to reduce costs and streamline our government,” Selectman John Barry said of the proposal during Monday’s Town Meeting.
The town could save an estimated $640,000 annually by leasing the land to a private company and no longer paying the five Department of Public Works employees who work at the transfer station, local officials say. But as a private entity, the transfer station could take on waste from neighboring towns, which would increase its intake by tenfold — from 49 tons of trash per day to 500.
Residents such as Mark Anderson felt that the savings came at a cost. As he stood by the front door of Hanover High School before the meeting, Anderson said he was worried about environmental and noise pollution privatization could bring.
“It’s bad for the town and bad for the people,” he said. “This town is very tranquil. Right now, we have one truck coming in every day. If we go private, it would be 10. There would be more pollution and hazardous waste to our ponds and reservation areas. And we’d spend more tax dollars on police and fire if there’s ever a problem at the site.”
Inside the auditorium, resident Maureen Elliott told the meeting she estimated that if the transfer station remained public, the cost per household would be less than $133 per year. She said that wasn’t worth the blow to local property values a privatized dump could bring.
Former Hanover selectwoman and current state Senate candidate Viola Ryerson came with a petition signed by at least 315 people. “These residents are saying they don’t approve of making Hanover a quasi-regional dump site . . . a dumping area for the South Shore,” she said.
Residents were also frustrated by what they felt was inadequate discussion of the issue. The Board of Selectmen had scheduled a hearing on the privatization proposal a week before Town Meeting, but it was so well attended that the room in Town Hall was too small to hold the crowd, which overflowed into the hallway. So officials canceled the public comment portion of the hearing, saving the debate for Town Meeting.
At the meeting, residents learned that selectmen proposed forming a five-person committee to weigh the pros and cons of privatization, elaborating on the warrant article that only said selectmen would ask for “a non-binding opinion on the efficacy of the privatization of the town’s transfer station.”
“We had our voice taken away from us at a hearing, and then we get here, and the question is considerably changed,” said T.J. Coogan, another local opponent of privatization.
Michael Mowbray, a Hanover resident and co-owner of Waste Solutions Inc., the Marshfield-based company that approached the town about privatization, tried to dispel any suspicion of a conspiracy. He said he and his partner had heard the town might be interested in leasing out the transfer station and contracting out management, and that they’d approached officials with a proposal.
“Nobody back-doored anything. As town manager, Troy Clarkson could have signed a three-year contract at any point, but he brought it here, to Town Meeting,” Mowbray said.
“We are hearing you loud and clear,” he added. “I hereby withdraw my proposal.”
Mowbray’s last comment was met by cheers and applause. As he left the microphone, he smiled and clapped along with the crowd.
Then, a replacement article was suggested — one that would simply forbid town officials from leasing the transfer station.
It passed unanimously.
Cara Bayles can be reached at email@example.com.