New 12-town Garbage Contract Stabilizes Costs for Member Towns

in Solid Waste and Recycling

The Southeastern Connecticut Regional Resources Recovery Authority (SCRRRA) earlier this year signed a 10-year agreement to dispose of solid waste at the Wheelabrator facility in Lisbon. The agreement will take effect in January 2021 and will stabilize costs for member towns.

SCRRRA will pay Wheelabrator $69 per ton of waste — significantly less than the current $84 per ton paid by SCRRRA to the waste-to-energy incinerator facility in Preston, operated by Covanta Energy. That $15 per ton reduction in cost will save SCRRRA over $2 million each year at current levels of waste disposal, keeping municipal costs as low as $59 per ton.

SCRRRA manages waste disposal and recycling contracts for 12 contiguous member towns — East Lyme, Griswold, Groton, Ledyard, Montville, New London, North Stonington, Norwich, Preston, Sprague, Stonington and Waterford. Together, the 12 towns generate about 135,000 tons of trash per year.

In recent weeks, SCRRRA’s member towns have each extended contracts with the authority to support the deal through 2031. Norwich and New London governments approved contracts on November 18. Reached by phone, Executive Director Dave Aldridge, said that so far nine of the 12 member towns had signed the agreement.

According to Aldridge, the new contract announced in July will help SCRRRA better stretch existing financial reserves and will support long-term planning initiatives for trash disposal in the region.

“Our planning horizons are 20 or 30 years out,” Aldridge said. “I don’t think a lot of people necessarily think of trash as a utility, but we generally do. Just think of the worst things in a disaster that can happen: your electricity doesn’t turn on, your heat doesn’t turn on, your water doesn’t turn on, and your trash doesn’t get picked up.”

Aldridge explained that SCRRRA has studied a variety of plans for waste disposal, including large-scale composting. The authority also offers hazardous waste collection and recycling and acts as an intermediary for the twelve member towns negotiating recycling fees with Willimantic Waste.

Joseph Bragaw, public works director for East Lyme, said that SCRRRA lowers costs for member towns by leveraging the collective bargaining power of 12 towns in negotiations. The authority also provides the benefit of a specialized office. Bragaw is also vice president on SCRRRA’s board of directors.

“Towns get very busy doing what they do and trash is a highly specialized thing — between recycling and hazardous wastes and wood grinding — so [SCRRRA] allows towns in the area to get some expertise,” Bragaw said.

According to Bragaw, the new contract with Wheelabrator won’t directly reduce costs to towns, but supports the long-term viability of SCRRRA and helps to stabilize the low costs that the towns already pay for trash services.

Moving on from a 25-year deal with Covanta

The Connecticut General Assembly established SCRRRA in 1987 to plan long-term solutions for trash disposal and recycling for member towns.

Earlier SCRRRA subsidized the construction of Covanta’s waste-to-energy facility in Preston, which became operational in 1992, through bonding and a 25-year contract that expired in 2017.

Aldridge said that the expiration of that contract motivated the new agreement with Wheelabrator, which took about 4 years to negotiate.

Waste-to-energy facilities burn refuse to generate heat that powers generators, simultaneously creating electricity and reducing garbage into ash. “You reduce what goes in there by volume by 90 percent,” Aldridge said. “You reduce it, but you still have ash that comes out the back end. That goes out to Putnam and there we bury it.”

Under the previous contract, SCRRRA and Covanta both benefited from the sale of the electricity, which allowed SCRRRA to build up financial reserves. 

When the original deal expired in 2017, Covanta took ownership of the Preston facility, and the two parties negotiated a shorter-term deal while SCRRRA sought bids for a new longer-term contract.

Wheelabrator Lisbon offered the most competitive bid, which was unanimously approved by the board of directors drawn from each of the member towns.

At present, SCRRRA is sending about 25,000 tons of its 135,000 tons of annual waste to Lisbon’s facility. By January 2021, the waste stream from all twelve towns will end up at the Lisbon plant.

That requires longer hauling for most SCRRRA towns, and Bragaw said that the board is considering changes to subsidies to reduce the cost disparity between towns for change.

Trash disposal is a local issue, Aldridge said, but SCRRRA represents a way for towns to pool resources.

“I report to 12 board members who are representatives from each of the 12 towns, and they get along great. When they sit down it’s all about the region. Nobody’s getting greedy about anything. They get along beautifully,” Aldridge said. “This is a pretty good example of regionalization. It’s 12 towns coming together to handle a problem and I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.”