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Trash co-op in talks for new Penacook recycling facility

A recycling organization is considering a Penacook location for a recycling and trash facility that would serve cities and towns across the state.

Epsom-based Northeast Resource Recovery Association (NRRA) is looking at a site off Whitney Road – among other locations – to build a transfer facility, according to Executive Director Mike Durfor. The nonprofit organization facilitates recycling services for more than 350 cities, towns and private companies across New England. It acts as a middleman, hiring companies to pick up and transport recyclables and reimbursing members for money earned by selling their recyclables.

The Penacook site is owned by the Concord Regional Solid Waste/Resource Recovery Cooperative. The co-op purchased a 40-acre site next to the Wheelabrator Technologies trash incinerator in 2008, in hopes of building a single-stream recycling plant. It pulled the plug on that plan in May, after Concord withdrew from the project.

Co-op Director Jim Presher said he has been talking with Durfor about the site, but “this is all preliminary.” The co-op might simply provide the land for the facility, or could consider selling it to NRRA, he said.

“We have the property, we own it and it’s . . . a very good location for something like this,” Presher said.

NRRA has never had its own transfer facility, Durfor said. Instead, it negotiates prices for companies to pick up recyclables from members’ transfer stations and deliver them directly to facilities in Maine, Vermont, New York or Massachusetts that purchase recyclables. Cities and towns pay annual membership fees of 5 cents per person, with a cap of $1,500 per municipality. Members also earn back the difference between the cost of transportation and the profit from selling recycled materials, Durfor said.

“Our job is to get them the best price we possibly can for their materials,” he said. “And that, we believe, really sustains ongoing recycling programs when people can really see, one, they’re saving money, and two, getting paid for it.”

By consolidating recyclables at a centrally-located transfer facility operated by NRRA and transporting them in larger quantities, Durfor said the organization could offer lower transportation costs and higher reimbursements for recyclables.

“It makes sense by virtue of the fact that we could do an even better job than what we’re doing now,” he said.

The organization has also never dealt with solid waste, but is now calculating whether it could offer that service if it builds its own transfer facility.

Durfor called solid waste a key component of the new facility, which would be funded through outside investors rather than member communities. He said negotiations and research are still under way, and declined to give details about the investors or other potential sites. NRRA’s board of directors will likely decide in January whether to move forward with the project, he said.

Of the co-op’s 25 member communities, 21 use NRRA for recycling services. If the co-op partners with NRRA for a new facility site, Presher said it’s too early to decide whether its members would need to partner with NRRA. NRRA would also include its own member communities in the new facility, Durfor said.

Concord, the co-op’s largest member, currently has a contract with Bestway Disposal Services for weekly recycling collection. The city does not collect money back for its recyclables, Chip Chesley, director of the city’s General Services Department, told the city’s Solid Waste Advisory Committee at a March meeting.

Meanwhile, Concord is considering pulling out of the co-op for its trash services. The city council voted in October to spend $80,000 to study other options for trash and recycling disposal. Chesley said the city has hired a consultant to conduct the study. Ward 7 City Councilor Keith Nyhan, chairman of the Solid Waste Advisory Committee, said some of that work will have to be completed in time to develop next year’s city budget.

“What we’re going to need to know is, from a strategy standpoint for the next budget, how is the city planning on moving forward with trash,” Nyhan said. “Even if we’re not pulling out of the co-op at that point in time . . . we will have discussed our options.”

Presher said the co-op is working to negotiate a new contract with Wheelabrator Technologies, which runs the Penacook trash incinerator. The current contract will expire at the end of 2014. The co-ops’s negotiations with Wheelabrator will hopefully have “some final direction” by the end of January, Presher said.

Presher said he is not currently negotiating a solid waste contract with NRRA, but he is not ruling it out as a possibility in the future.

NRRA does not want to compete with Wheelabrator for a contract with the co-op, Durfor said. He said his organization wants its members to get the best deal possible for their trash, and NRRA also has a mission to encourage more recycling.

A new NRRA facility could draw solid waste from other member communities, Durfor said, and would not necessarily need the co-op’s solid waste for its new facility to function.

And the new facility wouldn’t only offer single-stream recycling, like the plant the co-op had proposed for its Penacook property. Durfor said it would accommodate single-stream, dual-stream and other types of recycling so member towns and cities would not have to change their practices to join.

“Our concept is a one-stop shop for the state of New Hampshire,” he said.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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