EASTON — In an effort to be transparent and give local contractors a voice, Talbot County Roads Superintendent Warren Edwards got plenty of feedback – and pushback.

Edwards invited local hard materials, landscaping and recycling contractors to share their ideas and concerns about a proposed county recycling center at a meeting on Thursday morning, Oct. 30, at Talbot County Community Center.

Edwards extended an open invitation to the public. Seven local contractors, County Engineer Ray Clarke, County Attorney Tony Kupersmith, and later, County Planning Officer Mary Kay Verdery, joined the group, who helped themselves to donuts and coffee for the roundtable gathering.

County Council Members Chuck Callahan and Frank Divilio also attended the meeting.

Edwards said he wanted to hear ideas and concerns to take back to the county council.

A recycling center proposal, drafted in July and revised in October, is intended to save county taxpayers’ money “and make much-needed capital project improvements to our infrastructure,” by recycling asphalt millings, topsoil and trees from roads and clean-up projects.

Contractors would pay fees depending on the type of material, and residents who use the recycling center would pay an annual $30 fee to recycle used mulch, wood debris, bricks, cinderblocks and demolition debris.

The roads department itself has “created such a stockpile of materials that we want to be able to offer it back to the contractors as some sort of resale, other than the materials we need, that we could reuse,” Edwards said.

Contractors already in the recycling business offered respectful and practical — but pointed — objections to the plan.

Kevin Quinn of Dependable Sand, Stone and Recycling Co., Inc. raised a number of concerns and suggestions, describing the potential pitfalls of the center as a “nightmare.”

“I think all of us have the same concerns,” Quinn said. “One, you’re going to take business away from us. The simplest solution for the roads department is to go out and either rent a machine for your use when you need it — grind up your asphalt, your brush, your stumps, or what ever you want to do with it — and then offer it to the contractors. We’ll be there every (week) to load our trucks.”

“That way, you don’t have any overhead, you don’t have any problems with the neighbors, you don’t have any of that, and you still accomplish what you want,” Quinn said. “I just see (the recycling center) as a scenario where everybody loses, including the county.”

The location of the proposed recycling center is 28128 St. Michaels Road, a mile west of Easton.

The many objections resulted in Clarke saying he would look into the possibility of a feasibility study.

But before that point near the end of the hour-long meeting, contractors voiced practical concerns and suggestions. And most of the suggestions centered around renting equipment or using contractors who already have the equipment, as well as the ability to handle liability, security and accountability issues.

Alan Johnson of Johnson Lumber said he had a problem with the county “creating a product you can’t move.”

“I’m talking about the mulch now,” Johnson said. “It’s no competition to me. I turn down business every year. I’m worried about you wasting the county’s money as far as the grinders. You can hire people to do the grinding for you. Even if you do that, you’re still making a product you can’t get rid of.”

“Look, grinding asphalt – that’s like baking a cupcake,” Quinn said. “You’re talking about making a wedding cake. Asphalt is the easiest thing in the world to grind.”

Another problem the contractors pointed out was the need for ponds or wells available to extinguish fires as a result of the grinding process that generates enough heat to ignite wood chips.

“We’ve learned our lessons,” Johnson said. “Come to the mill and watch it being done. I mean, it’s some tough equipment to run. People can get hurt not knowing what they’re doing.”

Some equipment is very expensive to fix, Johnson said. He said he just spent $50,000 to fix a million dollar machine.

The proposed recycling center’s equipment costs add up to just shy of $2 million. The plan estimates weekly expenses of just over $25,000 per week, which includes three employees. The projected potential weekly income is an estimated $197,300.

“If you went to the bank and asked for $2 million for that plan, they’d laugh at you,” Johnson said.”It’s county money, not the bank’s money, and you gotta pay it back. We just look at it from the business side because we know the costs.”

“It’s gonna cost a lot more than what everybody thinks,” said Eric Bridges of the Bridges Companies in St. Michaels. “I think it’s just going to be a nightmare for you.”

Income would be generated by fees charged to county residents and licensed contractors. Operating hours would be 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturdays for “intake of material and sales only.”

Self-sufficiency is the goal of the operation. To resell materials back to the public would require the recycling center to operate as a county enterprise like Easton Airport.

Quinn said the best scenario would be to stay out of the recycling business and instead use contractors who could pick up material “once a week, every other week … whatever day works out,” Quinn said. “And that way, contractors can stockpile it in their yard,” benefitting contractors and retail landscapers.

“Yeah, we’d lose a few sales, but that’s okay. I’m not worried about competition,” Quinn said.

Using contractors with security systems already in place would eliminate the possibility of theft or misuse of equipment, Quinn pointed out.

“The biggest thing I want to do is to be transparent, because if I don’t I won’t get the ideas of everybody here of what we should be doing or not doing,” Edwards said. “I respect everybody’s opinion and the more I learn, the better we’re going to be at whatever we do, if anything, at the end of the day.”

Follow me on Twitter @connie_stardem.

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