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MIRA to Close Hartford Recycling Center for Center in Berlin

Unable to find funding to renovate its recycling facility in Hartford, the Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority, or MIRA, agreed instead to send recyclables to a private facility in Berlin.  The authority serves about 70 towns across the region.

The MIRA board voted to approve a six-year agreement to have Murphy Road Recycling replace FCR – owned by Republic Services – as MIRA’s contractor for processing recyclables in May. The Hartford facility, which MIRA says is in dire need of upgrades to continue operating, will be “mothballed,” and will serve as a transfer station for the foreseeable future.

MIRA President Tom Kirk told CT Examiner on Monday that the authority will be pulling from its reserves to ensure that the new agreement does not increase the current tipping fee its member towns pay from the current rate of $105 per ton. Kirk said that, while MIRA will not be operating a recycling facility in the near future, it is still ensuring that recycling and waste are taken care of.

“We’re still here,” he said.

Under the agreement, Murphy Road will process most of the materials MIRA collects at its own facility in Berlin. The company announced last week that it is investing $30 million to redesign and upgrade the equipment at that facility, which includes more automation and artificial intelligence.

MIRA will pay Murphy Road a $600,000 annual fee for operations and management, plus a $30 per ton fee to transfer materials from the Hartford facility to the Berlin facility, and an $85 per ton processing fee.

MIRA agreed last month to pay FCR $1.3 million and let it out of its contract to settle a lawsuit that claimed MIRA sent loads to the recycling facility that had more contamination – non-recyclable materials – than allowed by its contract.

The agreement will turn MIRA’s recycling facility in Hartford into a transfer station that would send materials to Berlin to be processed. The Berlin facility would process most of the recyclable materials MIRA collects. Materials collected at the Essex transfer station will be sent to the Willimantic Waste facility in Windham.

After agreeing to let FCR out of its contract, MIRA intended to keep the Hartford facility open with a new contractor, but it needed about $20 million worth of upgrades to bring it back up to operating standards, Kirk said. 

MIRA’s request for proposals for a new contractor included an option to transfer materials to an existing, private facility, because they were concerned there might not be interest in operating the Hartford facility, Kirk said. Still, the intention was to maintain a public option for recycling until it became clear that the state would not help finance the renovations the Hartford facility needs, he said. 

“We need that capital infusion, and the money to do that is just not there,” Kirk said. “We were hoping the state would be able to find a way to continue its investment in recycling, but we got the same answer for the recycling facility that we got for the trash-to-energy plant. It’s just not feasible at this time to invest the money that we need.”

Scott Shanley, MIRA Finance Committee chair and general manager of Manchester, said that he believes keeping the public option is in the state’s best interest, but it’s unlikely under the Murphy Road agreement. Still, he said he would support the resolution because it’s in MIRA’s financial best interests.

“I will be supporting this particular resolution with reluctance, because it’s one more piece of MIRA’s operation that will be less in the public domain,” Shanley said.

MIRA will keep its permit to process recyclables at its Hartford facility, and could look at renovating it in the future if there is financing available for it, such as a hypothetical infrastructure bill that would open up federal funding, Kirk said.

Murphy Road can use balers at the Hartford facility and use it for employee break areas, maintenance and storage, but will not be responsible for any expense related to the facility.

The renovated Murphy Road Recycling facility in Berlin is expected to be operational by early 2022, and will employ 200 people during construction and 50 people to operate it, according to a news release from Norwalk-based Van Dyk Recycling Solutions, which will design the facility and provide the equipment. The center will be capable of processing at least 50 tons of recyclable material an hour, and 200,000 tons a year, according to the companies.

Kirk said the company will still process materials at the Berlin facility as improvements are made. MIRA will start sending recyclables to Berlin in May, and the Hartford facility will be “mothballed,” Kirk said.

“The health and safety of our employees is our number one concern at Murphy Road Recycling,” said Murphy Road owner Frank Antonacci in the news release.  “That is why we invested heavily in automation to further increase the safety and productivity of the facility.  We are retraining employees for positions to operate and maintain the optical sorter and other equipment, which are higher-skilled, higher-wage positions.”

The MIRA board also approved six-year extensions to its agreements to collect recyclables from North Branford, Middlefield and Durham. Those three towns were short term customers who paid an additional $2 per ton for service, but will now have the same fees as other long-term recycling customers.

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