Westerlo scrap metal dropped in 2012

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Scrap pile: The designated scrap area of the Westerlo transfer station, pictured in June, displays a wide variety of items throughout the year for people to peruse, like sewing machines, doors taken from their hinges, refrigerators, and washing machines. 

WESTERLO — Two years after the town evaluated the revenue and management of its transfer station, Westerlo’s scrap metal in 2012 was almost half the amount hauled the year before. It is not clear whether the tradition of allowing residents to reuse items at the town transfer station has had an effect since the town’s solid waste law was amended.

It is also not clear if scrap metal continues to be stolen from the town’s transfer station and sold by individuals or if residents are legally selling scrap on their own without ever taking it to the town’s transfer station.

When Jack Milner, a former Republican councilman, reported the drop in tonnage to the town’s all-Democratic board in June, Councilman Anthony Sherman suggested that higher prices for scrap metal led people to bypass the town’s transfer station, bringing the metal to the port themselves.

The International Monetary Fund’s Commodity Metals Price Index showing copper, aluminum, iron ore, tin, nickel, zinc, lead, and uranium prices shows an overall decrease from 2011 to 2012. At its five-year peak, in February 2011, the index was at 256.24. In February 2012, it was at 207, dropping by more than 30 points to its low in August that same year.

A review of checks issued to the town showed that 61 net tons were hauled from Westerlo in 2011, paying the town $4,235 while 33 tons were hauled in 2012, for $3,142. Copies of checks were obtained from the town through a Freedom Of Information Law request and show that the average price per net ton that Rensselaer Iron & Steel paid Westerlo was $69.6 in 2011 and $93.5 in 2012. In years prior, the town got $3,961 from 93 tons in 2009 and $2,430 from 12.95 tons in 2010.

To compare with another rural Hilltown, neighboring Berne received $5,379 for 77 tons in 2009 and $4,250 for 69 tons in 2010, according to Supervisor Kevin Crosier. Berne received $8,072 for 49.66 tons in 2011, he said, and 64.17 tons in 2012, which town Clerk Patricia Favreau said brought the town $9,394.

Berne has 2,800 residents and Westerlo has 3,360, according to the 2010 United State Census; the number of housing units occupied by their owners is 1,025 in Berne and 1,150 in Westerlo.

“I’m not going to comment on anything before I look into it,” Westerlo Supervisor Richard Rapp said last week of the reduced tonnage.

“Probably, people are taking some of the steel themselves,” Rapp said as a possible explanation.

Planning board member Edwin Stevens said he has transported recyclable appliances and scrap for resale individually for more than 30 years. People call him to come with his truck and take their large items, like cars, away. But, Stevens said, free classified listings on Craigslist.com have cut into the number of calls he receives.

“I hear the price has been going down all summer. I haven't taken anything in,” said Stevens.

The Westerlo Town Board voted in October 2012 to switch recyclers after comparing prices. With Eastern Metal Recycling, the town was paid $240 per gross ton, or overall weight, in May this year, with a $170 haulage charge for two loads. With Rensselaer Iron & Steel, which hauled most scrap metal for the town during 2011 and 2012, the town was paid $145 per net ton, the weight of the metal alone, in April this year. Westerlo had changed vendors this spring.

The board amended its Solid Waste Management Code in 2011. The law now allows for reusable items to be left in a designated area at the transfer station, where residents can take things for their own use, and it excludes scrap metal from the definition of reusable items.

“Notwithstanding the foregoing,” the law says, “the Transfer Station Manager shall be authorized to place items defined as recyclables in the designated area for reusables, when such recyclable, in his/her discretion, has reusable parts, features or qualities.” It goes on to say that no items in the designated swap area can be taken for resale.

The board adopted a code of ethics in 2012, one of a number of changes proposed by the town after Milner, a Republican, who had served on the Democrat-dominated board, said the transfer station was being mismanaged.

Rapp said Charles Benninger, the town employee who manages the dump, now uses a Westerlo truck for his work at the transfer station. Milner had complained that Benninger drove his own truck, which made it easier for him to take town scrap metal.

With the repeal of a planned board of ethics in May, the town board has so far not made the other changes proposed in 2011. After an anonymous complaint to the state’s Attorney General’s Office alleging mismanagement, Westerlo’s attorney, Aline Galgay, said the town board had little control over alleged mismanagement at the transfer station and the steps taken to improve.

“From the attorney general’s perspective,” Galgay said in 2011, “they are looking at the town to continue with…changes to the employee handbook; training; the adoption of a code of ethics; adoption of, possibly, a board of ethics; and potential personnel modifications, based on the town board and highway superintendent’s meeting of the minds.”

Highway Superintendent Keith Wright told The Enterprise last week that he hired a person to work part-time under the transfer station manager, but highway department employees cannot be rotated through.

“I don’t have the help, really,” said Wright.

Of the reason for the drop in Westerlo’s hauled scrap metal, Wright said he didn’t have an explanation.

“It’s the same situation that was going on before except the same person isn’t picking it up from the transfer station…so, legally, I guess there’s nothing you can do about  it,” Milner said to The Enterprise.

Milner suggested the town could save money by hauling with its own trucks. Wright told said at the meeting it would cost more for the town to haul its own steel than to pay the company to do it.

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