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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 3, 2011

With two graphs (These are part of the story and should be included in the archives. Thanks.)

Stealing steel fro Westerlo?

By Zach Simeone

WESTERLO — As the town board looks to revise its solid-waste facilities law, one councilman has alleged theft and inefficiency on the part of the transfer station operator.

“At this point, after what I’ve collected from different people’s sayings and so forth, I’d like to see us get a new manager at the dump,” said Councilman Jack Milner last week.

Charles Benninger has been the town’s transfer station operator for nearly three decades.

“People have helped me, and I’ve helped them,” Benninger told The Enterprise. “Everything from giving people a ride home, dogs locked in their car, to giving a guy oxygen.”

He takes Milner’s efforts as a personal affront.

“For 28 years, I’ve been here, and for 28 years, I’ve taken stuff from here,” Benninger said. “But so has the whole town.”

The price of steel is high, Benninger said, and people are selling it for themselves. He went on to say that Milner has never personally approached him to discuss the operation of the transfer station.

“These independent haulers are bringing in all this garbage and none of it’s separated,” said Milner. “If you keep that practice, there’s a chance we could get kicked out of Rapp Road.”

Albany County’s director of recycling said this week that all four of the Hilltowns have clean track records at the Rapp Road landfill — a facility used by a consortium of municipalities.

But, because the tonnage of waste per person from Westerlo delivered to the landfill is higher than neighboring Hilltowns, Milner thinks that recyclables are being mixed in with the garbage, but this tends to be more an issue with commercial haulers than with municipal practice.

Additionally, numbers from the neighboring Hilltowns show higher annual profits from lower amounts of recycled scrap metal than Westerlo, which has led Milner to oppose residents’ taking metal from the transfer station and either selling it themselves or re-using it.

Milner — an outspoken Republican on an otherwise all-Democratic board — raised these issues at two town board meetings in January, stating that the town’s solid waste facilities law was being broken because items were being removed from the dump after being placed there.

Swap meets

Milner met with opposition from most of the audience at both town board meetings last month, as residents defended the town’s long-running tradition of swap meets for re-usable items brought to the dump.

The town’s 1992 law reads, “From the time of placement of recyclable materials at the solid waste facility by a resident or commercial waste collector, all such recyclable materials shall become the property of the town. It shall be a violation for any person without authority from the town or its authorized agent to collect, pick up, remove from the solid waste facility, or cause to be collected, picked up or removed from the solid waste facility, any recyclable materials.”

“It’s a community thing,” said Councilman Edward Rash at the board’s Jan. 4 meeting. “For years, I was a great dump picker. When I first got married, that was all the furniture we had in the house.”

A man from the audience added, “There are some people that supplement their income by taking scraps to the port.”

Another man in the gallery, angered by Milner, said, “You’re depriving the guy that has minimal income, maybe he’s only getting $300 a month for Social Security or whatever, and he goes to the dump and brings in a load of steel so he can get more food on his table…Why stop him?”

Milner had told the crowd that town residents had approached him and complained about people taking scrap metal from the transfer station for themselves.

Benninger asked the audience in the packed meeting room, “Is there anybody in here that has a complaint about the transfer station the way it is now?” The crowd had no complaints. He then said to Milner, “But you had a complaint from someone; where are they? Put them in here. Let them look at me.”

Milner went on to say that, while he did not take issue with town residents taking smaller recyclables like plastic and glass bottles, and swapping re-usable items like washing machines and refrigerators, he thinks that the town is losing money from scrap metal sales.

Metal figures

Over the past month, the towns of Berne, Knox, and Westerlo, as well as Albany’s Rapp Road landfill, and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, have provided for The Enterprise data relating to population, tonnage of and revenue from recyclables, and the costs and tonnage of municipal waste brought to the landfill. Figures on scrap metal include all metal sold by the town, such as metal brought from private residences to the transfer station, and metal accumulated by highway departments.

All three Hilltowns generate revenue by selling scrap metal. Some towns deliver the metal to the vendors themselves, while others have the metal picked up in town by the vendor; the latter option, while easier for town employees, can result in a large cut to the amount of revenue earned by the town.

Berne, with about 2,900 residents, generates that revenue through selling scrap metal at Otsego Auto Crushers in Oneonta, New York. The company comes and picks up the metal from the town. In 2009, Berne got $5,379 for selling 77.39 tons. In 2010, the town got $4,250 for 68.61 tons.

Comparing Knox’s figures to Westerlo’s points to the starkest difference.

Knox, with about 2,700 residents, hauls its own scrap metal to RK Freedman and Son in Green Island, New York. While the town did not have individual figures for scrap metal, Knox Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury said that only “a couple hundred dollars a year” came from materials other than scrap metal.

In 2009, Knox got $7,149.55 in recycling, mostly from the 76.68 tons of scrap metal sold; in 2010, it got $11,303.05 from recyclables, mostly from the 81.26 tons of scrap metal sold.

In Westerlo, Rensselaer Iron and Steel picks up some of the scrap metal at the transfer station, and the rest is hauled to A-1 Auto Crushing and Sims Metal Management in Albany.

In 2009, Westerlo got $3,961.33 from 93.42 tons of scrap metal; in 2010, the town got $2,430 from scrap metal. Town Clerk Gertrude Smith said that the total scrap metal tonnage had not yet been calculated.

So, while Knox got roughly $7,000 for 77 tons of scrap metal in 2009, Westerlo got $3,961 for 93 tons that year.

Further, in 2008, according to Clerk Smith’s records, the town got $9,272.96 from steel; but, when photocopied payments from all three scrap metal vendors are added to the total money from Sierra Fibers — the company that the town sells its paper and cardboard recyclables to — it equals Smith’s figure of $9,272.96 exactly.

Taking this into account, the acquired photocopied payments from the three scrap vendors add up to $4,499.48, which, according to the State DEC, accounts for 69.12 tons of metal.

Waste in the waste?

The Rapp Road landfill serves a consortium of 14 municipalities, including the city of Albany, and the four Hilltowns.

Frank Zeoli, director of recycling for the Rapp Road landfill, told The Enterprise this week that Westerlo, along with the other Hilltowns, has been right on target with its waste management, according to the random inspections at Rapp Road, and his visit to Westerlo’s transfer station in 2009.

“They’re doing their recycling,” Zeoli said. “And our inspections are done randomly throughout the week. At least every month, we have them done. It’s close to every week, but there may be a time where we’re having manpower issues.”

Then there are the intensive inspections.

“We do a full week where somebody’s sitting there all day long,” Zeoli said. “We do that twice a year, at random. Nobody can project when.”

But, he went on, it is difficult to assess the contents of the loads being brought in on a regular basis.

“It’s not a comprehensive test where you’re ripping open bags,” said Zeoli. “When you’re talking about something more comprehensive, it costs thousands and thousands of dollars to do it, because you’ve got to have a company that knows how to do it…You break it down into numerous categories, and you open it up and weigh it and look at the percentages of each thing.”

The commercial hauling to the landfill causes more of a problem than individual municipalities, said Joseph Giebelhaus, solid waste manager at the landfill.

“Commercial hauling represents about 80 percent of the waste that comes in here,” he said. “Towns and local municipalities have little or no control over the waste. The 1,000 tons we do per day, 125 are collected by the city of Albany curbside, another 100 to 125 is provided by the Hilltowns and other members of consortium, and the remainder is all commercial.”

But, even when an inappropriate load is detected at the landfill, the source can be determined, Zeoli said.

“We’re watching for large amounts of cardboard and metal or whatever,” he said. “One time, we saw a whole truck full of cardboard. So, what we do is go directly to the hauler, and we say, ‘Do you have a truck there? Where did it come from?’”

Still, the amounts of waste brought to the landfill from the Hilltowns in recent years have been disproportionate for their respective populations.

In 2010, Westerlo, with its 3,500 residents, spent $92,097.72 hauling in 1,771 tons of garbage. That same year, Berne, with its 2,900 residents, spent $44,148.52 hauling in 849 tons of garbage. And Knox, with its 2,700 residents, spent $54,254.72 hauling in 1,043 tons.

In 2009, Westerlo spent $100,624.68 hauling in 1,960 tons of garbage; Berne spent $45,614.40 hauling in 877 tons of garbage; and Knox spent $55,354 hauling in 1,065 tons.

In 2008, Westerlo spent $93,856.36 hauling in 1,804.93 tons of garbage; Berne spent $44,532.80 hauling in 856 tons of garbage; and Knox spent $58,127.16 hauling in 1,118 tons.


On Jan. 26, the town board held a workshop to discuss possible revisions to its waste management law.

Councilmen Rash and R. Gregory Zeh each proposed amendments to the law that might help to officially legalize the exchanges that traditionally happen at the transfer station.

“Recycling being a necessary part of waste control,” Rash read from his notes, “we should amend our current law to include ‘re-use’ as a part of the recycling program. Items that are still useful, such as, but not limited to, toys, furniture, wheelchairs, walkers, exercise equipment, tools, building components such as windows and doors, fixtures, machinery, etc. — items that still have a useful life, be available for re-use by the residents using the town transfer station.”

He went on, “The transfer station’s for the residents and if people want to leave something there, an old table saw, something that somebody wants to resurrect, I don’t see anything wrong with it.”

Zeh later read his proposal to add a paragraph that specifically addresses the disposal of re-usable items.

“The town board or its agent, including but not limited to the transfer station manager, shall designate an area located within the boundaries of the solid waste facility for placement of re-usable items as defined herein by residents and commercial waste collectors,” Zeh read. “All residents and commercial waste collectors shall be permitted to place re-usable items in the designated area. Residents shall be permitted to take re-usable items from the designated area for personal use. No items may be taken for commercial purposes, including re-sale.”

Zeh read on, “After a reasonable period of time, as determined by the transfer station manager, the transfer station manager shall remove any unclaimed items or items determined not to be functional and unusable, and place the same in the trash compactor or recycling bin as appropriate for disposal.”

Milner said after this Tuesday’s town board meeting that there will be a public hearing on the law on March 1. No other town board member could be reached Tuesday night to specify whether the hearing would be on Zeh and Rash’s proposed changes, or on other changes.

“Until such time as we make a change,” Rash said of the law last week, “things are going to have to change out there, and nobody’s going to like it, but too bad. We’ve got to go by the letter of the law. It’s been brought up. Now that it’s been brought up publicly and to our attention, we have to act on it.”

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