Friday, December 9, 2011

Will We Be Fooled Again?

Ken O'Brien

On Saturday, November 26th another article appeared in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette promoting the interests of Casella. It was titled  "Waste Not".

Interestingly, as the town council is reconsidering a bylaw that would create an Industrial Finance Development Authority that, as I've shown elsewhere, would primarily benefit Casella (particularly in the area of cogeneration projects) this carefully crafted promotional puff piece suddenly appears!

In the article John Schwalbe, director of landfills for Casella notes that "Casella Waste Systems' new, $1.5 million generator, which, with infrastructure costs, is a $3 million-plus project, can convert waste-to-energy".

Southbridge Town Manager Clark remarks that, "the town stands to reap 10 percent of Casella's waste-to-energy sales, or $100,000 to $150,000 a year".

So if the town's 10% of sales is going to be $100,000 to $150,000 per year, then Casella will retain gross sales of $900,000 to $1,350,000 per year.

That means that the total investment of $3 million will be recaptured in about 3 years after which this will essentially become a variable cost operation for Casella generating about $700,000 to $1 million per year in profit.

Another nice negotiating job on the contract with thanks to Clayton Carlisle, John Giorgio and the councilors who voted for it.

On the T&G comment site related to this article a commenter with the name  Pita 2011 raised the key issue, "What's in it for Southbridge and its taxpayers?"

As John Pulawski pointed out recently at a town council meeting, we were promised that we would get $3 million a year from the landfill. Well that certainly hasn't happened.

What we have gotten has been squandered on a variety of positions to take care of Casella's interests (a trash cop, a landfill monitor, a recycling coordinator, an overpaid health agent and a variety of additions to the town manager's staff).

Now we're going to get somewhere south of $150,000 a year while Casella will rake in substantial profits.

I can virtually guarantee that the money coming from this project to the town will go to hire a couple of more well-connected employees that will reinforce the votes behind those who constitute the puppet council majority we now have. This has been a well established pattern of patronage to benefit these FOS functionaries. Look at the recent diversion of CDBG grant money from property improvements to the benefit of nonprofit groups that have contributed little to community development but that do benefit an elite few who influence a large number of voters.

If you're going to use that money to benefit the town, why not invest it in business incubators and micro-loan programs as others have done. OH, I'm sorry, there is a business risk there and not nearly as many votes to capture in the immediate future.
In the meantime we're looking at a temporarily stalled bylaw to create an Industrial Development Financing Authority that will be another avenue to provide low cost financing to Casella just as the town did with the access road (which, by the way, still doesn't go to the "industrial park" that a consultant determined could only house one tenant of any size).

On top of this, we are told in the article that the energy being generated is being used, in part, to control the flare system. That system burns off excess methane, so just how much is being recovered and used in this cogeneration project?

I am reminded of the observation by Lando Calrissian in Star Wars, "This deal is getting worse all the time."

Darth Vader made the facts clear, " Pray I don't alter it any further."  (As was done in the case of the landfill contract by interim town manager Jack Healy when he altered the effective date of the contract through a "side letter".)

Remember when we thought we owned the landfill?

The most outrageous part of this whole fiasco is that proponents of the landfill contract as well as those who support what is now going on tell us that we should be grateful that we get "free" trash collection!

Never mind that it is our landfill. Never mind that it is part of the contract for the use of our town-owned property.

We now have bylaws that will fine residents $250 to $300 if they don't use clear trash bags. In all of the town bylaws the only penalty that is in that league is a second violation of the sex offender residency bylaw.

In addition, most of these regulations and penalties are, at the very least, of questionable validity in terms of state law and the town's own bylaws

To add insult to injury, Casella, with the blessings of the town council majority and the town manager, is trucking in trash to our town from other communities that impose no such restrictions or penalties.

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