The only regret Andy Pelletier has about his city's recycling facility is that it was designed on the fly.
"I love our facility, but it was designed as a transfer station, not a zero-sort facility," said Pelletier, director of public health in Auburn, Mass.
Pelletier — like other officials in towns and counties around New England that host Casella Waste Management recycling facilities — said he's otherwise happy with the operation and the way the company works.
The Auburn, Mass., facility was originally built as a dual-sort recycling barn, where sorted recyclables could be stored before being shipped. Casella's zero-sort operation was added in 2002.
He imagines what they could do if they had built the operation from the beginning, as the company wants to do in Lewiston.
"They have done an amazing job retrofitting and making it work, but if they can build from scratch, I think a facility built from the ground up would be great," Pelletier said.
As for the operator, Pelletier gave Casella high marks for running the facility and working with neighbors.
"It was a (different waste company) facility when Casella took over and then they retrofitted it to be a single-stream system," Pelletier said. "Mixed recycling comes in one side and goes on a service belt through the building and by the time it comes out, it's all sorted."
In his mind, Casella has a decent reputation.
"If I ask Casella for help, generally they are there," Pelletier said. "They've given us dumpsters for hazardous-waste days; they fund a disposal for (sharp objects). They come to bat for us."
John Garvey, county administrator for Ontario County, N.Y., said he's had a similar experience. Casella has operated the recycling facility near Seneca for eight years.
"They are not without some very vocal critics and an opposition group," Garvey said. "But that's pretty common for all solid-waste operations. I try to maintain a balanced view. When I have a problem, I talk to them and they respond."
Casella has its share of critics in Lewiston-Auburn, where the company proposes to build its seventh automated recycling facility. The company operates material recycling facilities, known as MRFs, in Stanley, N.Y., Auburn and Charleston, Mass., and Burlington and Rutland, Vt. The company manages a sixth MRF in Tompkins County, N.Y., as a joint venture with that county.
Lewiston city councilors are scheduled to host a public hearing at 7 p.m. Tuesday on a draft lease allowing the company to build a 15,000-square-foot facility in place of the current recycling shed on River Road.
The lease is much the same as those negotiated in Ontario County, N.Y., Auburn, Mass., and Chittenden County, Vt. The city would remain in control of the land under the facility and the facility itself. Casella would build the structure and deed it to the city, paying a monthly lease.
According to the terms of the 20-year lease, Casella would pay Lewiston $5,638 per month — $67,656 per year — in addition to an entry fee of $5 per truck.
The city currently has a three-year contract with Casella to take the city's unsorted recycling. Under the draft lease, the city would extend that contract by two years. After that, it would be free to send its recyclables anywhere it could get a good price.
That's what Auburn, Mass., does.
"The next time the contract comes up, they will be invited to bid," Pelletier said. "But they are not our current contractor, just someone who has a business in town."
Pelletier said one neighborhood concern has been delivery trucks coming to the facility. The Auburn, Mass., facility is off a state highway that passes through residential neighborhoods.
"The company has put up signs telling drivers not to go that way," he said. "Where they are supposed to go, there are maybe seven houses there and I don't get complaints from those homes. I tend to get them from the other side, from trucks that are going out the wrong way."
Brian Wright, operations manager of the Chittenden County Solid Waste District in Williston, Vt., said he considers Casella to be a good company.
"They are a private company," he said. "You have to negotiate and watch them. But they have never dropped the ball for me, ever."
In fact, Wright said sometimes they go above and beyond.
"We own the equipment, but they maintain it," Wright said. "There have been gray areas where we needed to replace equipment. But they often did it, just to keep operating."
Rutland, Vt., Solid Waste District Manager Jim O'Gorman said he has a good working relationship with Casella. He likes having the facility because it lets the city cut down on trash tipping fees.
"There are other vendors that accept recycling, but they just want the cream of the crop," he said. "They just want the plastic or the tin, but they're not interested in the commodities that might not be worth as much. That's where it's a little different."
Ontario County's Garvey agreed.
"It increases utilization," he said. "It makes it so simple, everybody recycles, and that's our main goal, to reduce the waste stream within the county with better education and better recycling. This does it better than anything else."
View Casella Zero Sort Material Recycling Facilities in a larger map