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February 6, 2014

MOSA talk explains end of an era

By Bera Dunau Staff Writer
Cooperstown Crier

---- — When it comes to your trash, don’t expect anything to change.

That was the message of a talk given by Karen Sullivan, Otsego County’s Solid Waste and Planning Department director, about the impending dissolution of the Montgomery-Otsego-Schoharie Solid Waste Authority, the organization that’s handled Otsego County’s solid waste for almost 25 years.

Sullivan also spoke about what will come next. 

Sullivan delivered the talk on MOSA at Cooperstown’s First Presbyterian Church on Jan. 29 at a joint meeting of the League of Women Voters and the Otsego County Conservation Association. OCCA Special Projects Manager Martha Clarvoe organized the event and introduced Sullivan.

“I’m surprised to see so many people out tonight to discuss garbage,” said Sullivan at the start of her talk.

Sullivan said that it is the hope of the county that the dissolving of MOSA won’t be noticed.

“I hope no one even realizes that there’s going to be a change,” said Sullivan.

MOSA was founded in the 1980’s in response to the closure of town landfills by the Department of Environmental Conservation, and the need for the three counties to manage their waste. It began operating in 1989. MOSA is run by a board of eight representatives: Three from Otsego County, two from Schoharie County and three from Montgomery County.

Today, MOSA  runs the five transfer stations: two of which are in Otsego, two of which are in Montgomery and one of which is in Schoharie. It also monitors three closed landfills: one in Otsego, and two in Montgomery. There are no active landfills in any of the three counties, and waste is shipped to western New York from the transfer stations for disposal.

Under the MOSA agreement, Otsego County paid 40 percent of the cost associated with MOSA, while Montgomery County paid 42 percent and Scohaire County paid 18 percent. Sullivan said that those numbers were determined when the association was first established, and that they were based off of the estimated load that each county would put on the system.

One of the factors that Sullivan cited as a contributor to the dissolution of MOSA was the Guaranteed Annual Tonnage that Otsego County is assigned yearly by MOSA. 

GAT is an amount of trash that a contributor to a landfill must bring to a landfill per year. The reason why this minimum is set is that a landfill needs to process a certain amount of garbage in order to make enough money to continue to run. If a contributor goes over or meets the GAT, nothing happens, but if they provide less than the GAT, they are penalized. The long term trend for Otsego County in MOSA has been that it hasn’t been meeting its GAT.

Sullivan gave a number of reasons for this. The first has been that recycling has been on the rise in Otsego County, with recyclables only recently being able to be used as a GAT offset.

“We’ve increased our recyclables every year,” said Sullivan.

A second is the downward turn in the economy, which Sullivan said drives trash numbers down, as consumers become more aware of their purchases. A third reason Sullivan gave was the composition of the products themselves, which she said have generally become lighter. A fourth reason is that Otsego County doesn’t have flow control, meaning it doesn’t make sure that garbage generated in Otsego County goes to Otsego County transfer stations.

Still, Sullivan said that the GAT wasn’t the only factor that played a role in MOSA’s dissolution.

“It was a multitude of 25 years ... of a strained relationship,” said Sullivan, in comments after her presentation.

Sullican said that Otsego County was the first county to express a desire to leave MOSA, in response to the coming end of the service agreement.

MOSA’s contract is set to expire on April 30. In order for Otsego County, and the two other counties in MOSA, to assume responsibility for their own waste, however, a home rule provision will need to pass the state government. This provision was introduced in the state senate on Jan. 8.

Even if the contract expires with the home rule provision passed, Otsego County will be responsible, along with Schohaire and Montgomery Counties, for maintaining the three closed landfills.

“We have a short period of time to get a lot of work done,” said Sullivan, on how the county is preparing for to deal with solid waste post MOSA.

Currently the county is accepting RFP’s to operate its waste transfer stations from private entities in a public-private partnership. She also said that Otsego County was not currently considering running its transfer own stations, although Montgomery is looking into both options for their transfer stations. Recycling operations will remain in the hands of the county.

An RFP is also out for a private company to maintain the three landfills that Otsego county will be partially responsible for.

“Working with a good company we hope to that things will go smoothly,” said Sullivan. “The key component is to get someone in there operating it and to get the landfills managed.”