2015-07-03 / Community

Changes coming for town’s hazmat day

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENEBUNK — Following a series of issues during Kennebunk’s annual hazardous waste collection day, June 13, changes are on tap for the next annual iteration of the service.

According to Jeanne Brooks, administrative assistant to the pubic services department, 314 automobiles passed though the line at the Sea Road transfer station, accounting for 487 households’ worth of product, based on an assumed average of 10 gallons, or 20 pounds of waste per home.

That’s a bit more traffic than in recent years, possibly because the town had gone to bi-annual collection due to declining participation and the assumption that many residents had cleaned their homes over the years of hazardous materials.

The event, usually conducted in the fall, also was skipped last year and moved to this spring in hopes of attracting seasonal residents.

The result was, what had in the past been an average wait of 15-to-30 minutes to drop off hazardous waste turned into a line that stretched from the transfer station as far back as Woodside Drive, with a wait time that reportedly approached two hours.

The problem, said Brooks, was that two large pick-up trucks that came loaded for bear within the first half-hour of the collection day created a sort of domino effect of delays.

Also, according to Town Manager Barry Tibbetts, who spent four hours walking the line dealing with irate residents, the company contracted to collect the waste, Massachusetts-based Clean Harbors Environmental, sent just eight workers to Kennebunk this year. Usually, he said, the company sends 13 people to collect and sort the hazardous waste.

“They always do a great job and they did a great job this time, too,” Tibbetts said. “They were just short on people and who they sent was, I don’t think, as experienced at handling the volume of stuff that came through.

“And it wasn’t like I could just grab five people and say jump in there and help them out,” Tibbetts said. “There is specialized training needed to be able to handle these types of materials.”

The result was a lot of unhappy people, resulting in several comments on social media in selectmen’s ears.

“I heard some squabbles about the experience,” Selectman Christopher Cluff said.

Part of that had to do with turning folk away. At 1 p.m., when Clean Harbors was scheduled to shut down, a time when there was little to no wait in years past, there were still nearly 100 cars in line, by Tibbettts’ estimate. At that point, he posted a police officer at the last car and began turning people away. Also sent home were residents of Arundel.

The towns of Kennebunkport and Wells paid to be part of event. All three towns have their solid waste hauled to Casalla Waste Systems and get reimbursed for half the fee charged by Clean Harbors. Arundel, which has previously joined in, sat this year out. However, one Arundel resident in line showed Tibbetts a newspaper ad declaring his town was part of the event. How that happened is a mystery.

“I didn’t do any advertising this year,” said Brooks.

“It must be an ad from one of the other communities from last year, that was put in by mistake,” Tibbetts said. Tibbetts said what he was given was a clipping from the paper, so he’s not sure where it was published.

Also adding to the frustration of some was that they were allowed to drop off regular household waste, then sent to the back of the hazardous waste line. This included volunteers at the Treasure Chest swap shop, located on the public works property, who felt they should have been able to drop their hazmat items after finishing their shift, and said so online.

“I had to treat everyone the same,” Tibbetts said in a June 26 interview. “If I was to turn away residents, I wasn’t going let anyone get else in line. I didn’t like doing it either, but I have got to be fair.”

At the June 23 selectmen’s meeting, resident John Costin addressed the issue, saying, “I was not particularly frustrated. I was actually happy to see so many people getting those hazardous materials out of their homes.

However, Costin had a suggestion.

“This is an ongoing need, but it’s not a one-and-done,” he said. “It’s something we need to do on a regular basis. I hope we will step up to a commitment to do this on an annual basis, so people will view it as something that is doable, that won’t put a major crimp in their lives, because we want people to do it.”

“That’s a good idea,” Tibbetts said, at the time. “It probably does make sense to do this on an annual basis.”

“We definitely will make changes next year,” Tibbetts said on June 26.

Although Tibbetts left open the possibility that selectmen may put the annual contract with Clean Harbors out to bid, the chief change, he said, will be to request a higher level of staffing next spring. Tibbetts said he and public works staffers have also discussed how to reroute traffic next year, to help the line better flow in and out of the facility.

“I think those things should resolve the issue,” he said.

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