Aug 27, 2007 Martha E. Conway Uncategorized
Last Friday, Smithfield Supervisor Richard O. Bargabos walked out of a meeting in protest. He said the executive session of a joint meeting of the Solid Waste and Recycling and Public Utility Services committees denied due process in the Madison County landfill gas-to-energy project.
“I won’t participate in the meeting any longer,” Bargabos said after exiting the meeting room. “The Public Utility Service Committee was effectively disenfranchised and overshadowed by the Solid Waste Committee.”
Others who participated in the closed portion of the meeting say much of the hour-long discussion revolved around how to keep the meeting closed after consulting County Attorney John Campanie.
“He was having a hissy fit because we were having a discussion,” said SWR committee Chairman Michel DeBottis (Oneida Wards 1, 2 and 3) after the public was readmitted to the meeting. “We’ve all had the benefit of counsel’s advice, and now we can begin the joint meeting.”
DeBottis also is a member of the PUS committee.
Assistant Planning Director Paul Miller presented committee members and Board of Supervisors Chairman Rocco J. DiVeronica (Lenox) with a revised “apples-to-apples” comparison of the three bids in the landfill gas-to-energy project. Miller’s analysis presented Waste Management Inc. as the winner in the rankings, followed by Pennsylvania Power and Light and Oneida-Madison Electric Cooperative coming in last.
After the presentation and some discussion, DeBottis asked committee members to vote for the bidder with whom they wished to enter negotiations.
“I think Paul’s analysis is credible,” DeBottis said. “We set that criteria and his analysis is true to that criteria.”
Fenner Supervisor Russell Cary, who abstained from voting because of a possible conflict of interest, said those who vote based on expected revenue to the county were looking at the project with tunnel vision. He said there are other economic factors to consider.
“OMEC has close to 200 miles of grid in Madison and Oneida counties that we could tap into,” Cary said.
National Grid is foreign-owned, Cary said, with some of the profits earned by either PP&L or WM going overseas to support that grid. He said going with OMEC would prevent challenges he faced getting on a foreign-owned grid, a problem he ran into when the Fenner wind farm was constructed.
“The numbers are very close together, and there is a very high potential we could go on our own grid,” Cary said. “This is the revenue we should be looking at. A big percentage of OMEC’s grid is in Madison County, and there is great potential it could spread to other areas of the county.”
Supervisor James Rafte (Oneida Wards 4, 5 and 6) asked for a week to review and digest Miller’s materials.
“I’m not comfortable voting because not all the committee members are here,” Rafte said. “I’m vice chairman of this committee, and I am just getting this information. I think it’s better to take a vote at another meeting. I don’t want to speak to personalities here, but I don’t want a battle out on the floor.”
Engineer Kevin Voorhees of Barton & Loguidice, who has been advising the SWR committee on the landfill gas-to-energy project, said OMEC has one unique advantage.
“There is one way to look at OMEC, and it is unique to them,” Voorhees said. “Their share of the revenue stays in the county, and they will be using their share of the profits to keep rates low for OMEC customers.”
OMEC estimates payments to the county of $7.3 million over 20 years, a 50-50 split of the profits. That money would boost the local economy as OMEC invested in its infrastructure and stockholders would have more disposable income to invest locally.
“Until 10 minutes ago when I heard Kevin’s comments, I was ready to vote for Waste Management,” said Lebanon Supervisor James Goldstein. “I’m trying to make a fair decision here. Waste Management may be offering more money, but if more money is going to go through OMEC and [disseminate throughout the county], I would vote for OMEC.”
That $7-million profit would benefit 1,600 OMEC stockholders, DeBottis said, an inappropriate basis for some supervisors’ votes.
“We are trustees of a public asset,” DeBottis said.
He said the 70,000 residents of Madison County would benefit more from the $9 million Waste Management projected.
“We’re losing — at the most conservative estimate — $15,000 a month,” DeBottis said of delays.
DeBottis chastised Voorhees for clouding the issues and asked DiVeronica for a clarification as to whether the committees were on equal footing.
“It’s my understanding it is the responsibility of the Solid Waste and Recycling Committee to make a recommendation to the board, and the Public Utility Services Committee was to provide input,” DeBottis said. “Am I correct here?”
“That is correct,” DiVeronica said.
Rafte said committee members just got the information and a week’s delay would be beneficial for several reasons.
“If we wait a week, cool minds will prevail and we can look at the information,” Rafte said.
“We shouldn’t be regulated by one person leaving a meeting,” DiVeronica said. “We’ve gotta move this process along.”
Goldstein moved to recommend OMEC to the full board of supervisors at its September meeting. The motion did not get a second. Supervisor Douglas Holdridge (Lincoln) moved to recommend Waste Management Inc. The motion was seconded by Supervisor Donald Behr (Oneida Wards 4, 5 and 6), with DeBottis tipping the vote three-one among members of the SWR committee.
Supervisor Russell Hammond (Georgetown), also a member of both committees, was absent.
Bargabos, who was bumped from the SWR committee late last year after butting heads with DeBottis over the method by which statistical data is kept at the landfill, said there was another reason for his exiting the meeting.
“No one on either committee received any of the alternate proposals or responses to our questions at or prior to the executive session meeting,” Bargabos said after the meeting. “How could any of us make an informed decision about the need for confidentiality or even read through the material in that short time, let alone comprehend it?”
The recommendation will go to the full board of supervisors Sept. 11 at 10 a.m. Bargabos has promised to be vocal that day.
“What is most disturbing is that there has been a total disregard for the Public Utility Service Committee throughout this whole process and a member’s simple request to adjourn for one week in order to review the information,” Bargabos said. “The proposal to negotiate with Waste Management is moving forward without the recommendation of the Public Utility Service Committee, a committee that was formed specifically for that task. Can the chairman of the board of supervisors condone this action? If so, service on the PUSC has been a waste of time and resources, an issue that should also be brought to the full board.”