Westerlo allows hauler's license to expire
The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia
Sorting it out: Michael Sharkey, center, reaches into the dumping body of his trailer on Feb. 4, throwing recyclables into a Dumpster at the Westerlo transfer station. He owns Greene County Sanitation; the town board recently resolved to let his dumping license expire after workers discovered out-of-town trash at the Westerlo transfer station. Sharkey denies that he has dumped out-of-town trash in Westerlo. He called Dylan Beckman, left, a friend who helps with the work.
WESTERLO — After reports that a hauler had dumped out-of-town trash at the Westerlo transfer station, the town board voted unanimously Tuesday to not renew its license; it expires on Feb. 10.
The town sent a letter to Michael Sharkey, owner of Greene County Sanitation, last month, warning him that his license to dump at the station had been put on probation and that his recyclables were dirty. Charles Benninger, the town’s longtime transfer station manager, said he found out-of-town trash or recyclables dumped by Sharkey twice since the letter went out and several times before.
Sharkey told The Enterprise he picks up from about 800 homes, mostly throughout Greene County. A list kept by the town shows 17 Westerlo customers for Greene County Sanitation. Over the summer, Town Clerk Kathleen Spinnato told Sharkey three of them were out-of-town addresses. They are in a trailer park bisected by the northern town line.
Sharkey says, once told, he stopped taking trash from those three addresses to the Westerlo station. He denies that he’s violated his license.
When Sharkey came before the town board in February 2013, Benninger said the town had three permitted haulers at the time. Councilman Alfred Field wanted to table the motion to study “the feasibility of having another hauler come in.” The board approved the license with Field in opposition.
Benninger said then that he knew a man whose route in Westerlo was for sale.
“I tried to buy it,” Sharkey said last week of the route with which he competes. “What they were asking was a little too much. So I said, ‘To hell with it. I’ll just start my own route in Westerlo.’”
When asked by the town board at the meeting last year how he would separate Westerlo trash from his other customers’ trash, Sharkey said he would have a separate route for the town.
“It would have to be, because I can’t dump other garbage here,” said Sharkey last year. At the time, he said he was paying to dump his trash from Westerlo in Catskill.
Now, Sharkey said last week, he starts in the town of Cairo, in Greene County, and picks up for customers along Route 32 and half of the town of Greenville before heading north to his Westerlo customers. Trash from Westerlo is kept in the bed of his truck, separate from Greene County customers, Sharkey said, and all recyclables are kept in a single container on his trailer.
Towns typically get paid for recyclables but have to pay to dispose of other trash.
“Things change in business,” Sharkey said this month of merging routes. “It’s a living, growing thing.”
Sharkey, 50, said he started Greene County Sanitation in September 2012, his fourth disposal business since 2001. He builds the businesses, then sells them for profit.
“This one’s for the long haul,” Sharkey said of Greene County Sanitation. “I’ve got four children. One of my daughters is showing an interest in maybe running it when she gets out of college.”
Sharkey said other trucks have followed him multiple times in Westerlo and he suspects it has to do with the accusations.
He could not be reached after the town board voted against renewing his license.
“I would probably end up giving away my stops in Westerlo,” he said last week of the possibility of not having dumping privileges. “…I don’t want any criminal charges against me. I have four children. They can all read. They can all read the newspaper.”
As The Enterprise watched Benninger rake through the trash dumped by Sharkey on Feb. 4; he would not describe what he found, but claimed he had again discovered items from customers outside of Westerlo.
Earlier, Benninger said, Sharkey was caught multiple times, including substantial amounts of mail with recipient addresses beyond town lines.
“I know the mailing addresses. I’ve worked here for 31 years, as you know,” Benninger said on Tuesday. “I know the mailing addresses of this town. I know who belongs, where they live. I know most of their children’s names and the cars they drive.”
Random searches are conducted for all haulers, said Keith Wright, the town’s highway superintendent who oversees the transfer station.
Early on, Sharkey said, Benninger went through his truck as he was inspecting. Benninger, however, said no one went through Sharkey’s truck.
“We’ve had words back and forth, him and I, personally,” Sharkey said of Benninger and himself. “I’m not a person that takes much nonsense, and so, when somebody says something to me, I usually say something back.”
This month, Sharkey said, Benninger asked whether a box of recyclables was going to be dumped in Westerlo and he asked to see it when Benninger took it away. “He said, ‘This says Greenville on it,’” Sharkey recounted. “I said, ‘Dude, if it says Greenville on it, it’s not going in there.’”
Benninger said Sharkey answered “Yes” when asked whether or not he would leave the recyclables in Westerlo.
“I took it from his hand,” said Benninger. “It was a cardboard box. I’d seen inside with the address on it. He did not. When I went with it, he said it was his property. So therefore, afterwards, we went through the Dumpster and found more.”