Hopkinton-Webster transfer station agreement to be revised

  • Recyclables are sorted at the Hopkinton-Webster Transfer Station in 2016. The towns are reviewing their agreement for the facility. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 7/18/2023 5:22:16 PM
Modified: 7/18/2023 5:21:47 PM

Two communities that share a transfer station have diverging approaches to trash disposal and now are trying to figure out how to better work together to reach a common goal of waste reduction.

Hopkinton requires its residents to use pay-as-you-throw green bags when disposing of their trash at the transfer station on East Penacook Road.

In Webster, which has one-third of the population of Hopkinton, the town doesn’t have a Pay-by-Bag program and isn’t enthusiastic about implementing one in the future. The different attitudes complicate the overall operation of the joint facility.

Since Webster residents don’t have to use green bags, enforcing the requirement on residents from the larger town becomes difficult, officials said at a meeting Monday to discuss a nearly five-decade-old agreement between the two towns.

“We are hoping to start a dialogue with you guys to see what your assessment is of how things are operating at the transfer station and also to see how open you would be to considering some changes,” said Hopkinton select board member Steven Whitley. 

While it costs to buy the green bags, Thomas Lipoma, a Hopkinton select board member said, its purpose is to reduce the waste generated and offset Hopkinton’s share of the transfer station operating costs.

But the initiative hasn’t yielded desired results. According to a report from the Northeast Resource Recovery Association, the Hopkinton-Webster transfer station produces a higher volume of waste compared to similarly populated communities.

For instance, in 2021, Littleton, with a population of only 1,000 less than Hopkinton, generated 680 tons of municipal solid waste, whereas Hopkinton generated 3,228 tons. Littleton also uses a Pay-by-Bag program

“So it’s hard when we have voted on it and decided as a town that we want to do it and it doesn’t work out well for us at all; we are the one outlier,” said Lipoma. “The one big reason is because we are a joint transfer station that’s hard to enforce.”

The aging agreement between the towns is set to be revised to provide for more open communication channels and to repair what many consider a broken system.

During Monday evening’s joint meeting, Webster's select board members expressed their concerns regarding the current system, primarily focusing on the lack of effective communication.

“The thing that has been somewhat of a common thread is not that things haven’t worked out well, it’s that there could be better communication and information flow between everyone involved,” said David Hemenway, chair of the Webster select board.

At the heart of the issue is the original agreement from 1975, which established the creation of the Hopkinton-Webster Refuse Disposal Committee. This committee, comprising of three members from each town, was intended to oversee the transfer station’s operation and decision-making processes.

However, Webster has been without a representative on the committee in recent years, leaving Hopkinton as the sole manager and operator of the joint facility.

Neal Cass, the Hopkinton town administrator, cast doubt on the committee’s effectiveness and said that it has been dysfunctional for years.

“I’m not sure the refuse disposal committee ever worked,” said Cass. “I’m not sure how many decisions were being made [by the committee], so I’m not sure that the way it’s written it ever really functioned or certainly hasn’t for decades.”

Apart from communication challenges, concerns about approaches to waste reduction in the two towns dominated Monday’s meeting between the two select boards.

Officials from both towns agreed to meet in September to continue the dialogue and narrow down the modifications each town will like to have in the revised agreement.

Sruthi Gopalakrishnan

Sruthi Gopalakrishnan covers environmental and energy stories in Bow, Hopkinton, Dunbarton and Warner for the Concord Monitor. In 2022, she graduated from Northwestern University with a master's degree in journalism, specializing in investigative reporting. She also has a bachelor's degree in Computer Science and Engineering and is always looking for new ways to incorporate data and visual elements into her stories. Her work has appeared in Energy News Network, Prism Reports and Crain's Chicago Business.

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