Council throws lot in with solid waste nonprofit

MERRIMACK – You could call it one-stop dropping.

Merrimack plans to roll out a single-stream recycling program this summer, which means transfer station users can drop off recyclables in one lump – no more sorting.

The Merrimack Town Council on Thursday voted to start single-stream recycling, and in conjunction, join the Concord Regional Solid Waste Resource Recovery Cooperative, a nonprofit corporation of 27 communities that governs its own trash disposal.

The cooperative, established in 1985, has plans to expand by building a new, single-stream facility in Penacook and with additional municipal partners – to now include Merrimack. Becoming a member means the town would enter into a 15-year contract and would have a certain amount of control over disposal costs and income, town officials said.

Residents are more likely to notice changes at the transfer station.

Single-stream recycling would allow all the current recyclable items, plus five additional plastics, junk mail, magazines, catalogs and plastic toys, said Public Works Director Rick Seymour.

After residents dump recyclables in one area, transfer station employees would move it to a trailer for storage. The town will have to buy that trailer at a cost of $70,000, which would be withdrawn from a capital reserve fund. The materials would then be brought to Penacook. “I think there’s a community want and need for single stream to go on as soon as possible,” said Public Works Director Rick Seymour.

Single-stream is also projected to save the town money. Now, Merrimack pays $60 a ton for disposal at a landfill in Rochester. Taking additional recyclables out of the waste stream would save money there, and disposing them at the cooperative only costs $45 a ton – an estimated annual savings of $75,000. The system would also eliminate a transfer station position, saving $56,000 in wages and benefits.

In addition, Merrimack would potentially receive revenue from selling its recyclables through the cooperative, but the kickback is market-driven. In better economic times, recyclable revenue is estimated between $50,000 and $200,000 each year. But in times like these, it can actually cost the town to dispose of recyclable materials, which concerned some councilors.

Councilor Nancy Harrington also stressed the need to educate the public on the new system, and to take it slow. “If it’s somewhat delayed, but done right, I’m okay with that,” she said.

Single-stream recycling will begin in Merrimack in July. The town will have its legal counsel comb over details of the cooperative contract and also find a single-stream buyer for a year until the Penacook facility is complete.

Cooperative Director Jim Presher said he will know in late May whether they have enough partners to move forward with the new single-stream facility.

Also at Thursday’s meeting:

Town councilors also accepted federal reimbursement money to help pay for costs incurred during December’s brutal ice storm.

In total, the town generated about $170,000 in storm-related costs.

During the storm itself, Merrimack town spent $91,700 for immediate clean-up, building repairs, maintaining the town sewer system, plus fire and police personnel. The Federal Emergency Management Agency put forth about $62,000 – 75 percent of the total – in reimbursement funds, with the town picking up the rest.

The town anticipates spending an additional $80,000 in spring cleanup, which will take about six weeks to complete and is nearly done, said Public Works Director Rick Seymour. At that point, Merrimack will again submit to FEMA for 75 percent reimbursement.

The council re-elected current Chairman Tom Mahon to that position, and elected newcomer Tom Koenig to vice chairman.