goleader.com - Union County, NJ Newspapers 97oct23


Scotch Plains Council Reacts With Caution Over Proposal For Long-Term Burner Lease

By JEANNE WHITNEY Specially Written for The Times

Scotch Plains Township Council members reacted with caution to the proposed 25-year leasing of the Union County Resource Recovery Facility in Rahway -- otherwise known as the incinerator -- during a conference meeting on Tuesday.

Joseph Spatola, Executive Director of the Union County Utilities Authority (UCUA), which is overseeing the facility, has said the lease agreement was developed with the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders and Ogden Martin Systems, the company that built and operates the plant.

Recently, both Democratic and Republican Freeholders seemed to agree that the leasing plan is the only way to salvage $28 million worth of county-owned debt on the facility that opened just several years ago.

Financial woes for the county incinerator operations surfaced last year after the courts struck down a 1975 state mandate that counties regulate waste flow. After the decision, trash haulers were free to transport garbage to the lowest bidder for disposal -- wherever that may be -- which left the local operation in an unprofitable situation.

According to Councilwoman Joan Papen, the proposed lease asks municipalities to sign on with the Rahway facility for waste disposal or otherwise pay a penalty for every ton short of its tonnage requirement.

Ogden Martin says it needs 250,000 tons of garbage a year to be profitable according to township officials.

Municipalities will be guaranteed a price of $50 per ton for 25 years under the new agreement. Township Council members balked at the idea of being locked into a long-term lease, speculating that recycling and waste flow management could change drastically over that length of time.

Council members also questioned the penalties for non-use of the county incinerator, since Scotch Plains is one of six municipalities in Union County which does not regulate waste flow, according to Mayor Irene T. Schmidt.

"How can we tell the (trash haulers) what to do?" Mrs. Papen asked. Some have said the haulers will absorb the penalty fees.

Councilman Martin Marks endorsed a prudent approach, saying, "This decision should be delayed. We some need advice from the legal department."

The UCUA is giving towns a Saturday, November 15, deadline to comply with the terms of the lease. Mayor Schmidt said the UCUA has asked for a resolution from the council by Sunday, November 30, to cement the deal.

"The Authority says municipalities should be thrilled to enter into this contract," Mayor Schmidt noted, while indicating she had many more questions about the proposal.

The plan would go into effect on Thursday. January 1, of next year, Mrs. Papen said.

In other business, the council said it wanted to meet next month with Berkeley Heights Mayor Daniel A. Palladino, 3rd, to discuss the so-called Upper Portion of the Green Brook Flood Control Project. Mayor Palladino said the township hired an engineer to come up with alternate designs for the area.

Following a telephone conversation with Mr. Palladino last week, Mayor Schmidt concluded that Berkeley Heights does not want to "stand in the way" of flood control assistance for the lower floodplain regions -- of which Scotch Plains and Fanwood are a part -- but that the township has alternate ideas to the two proposed detention basins in the county-owned Watchung Reservation.

One of those ideas is the use of existing Seeley’s Pond for water detention, Mayor Schmidt said.

The council asked that Theodore Bassman, the Scotch Plains representative to the Green Brook Task Force, join the council for the meeting with Berkeley Heights residents. The Task Force has been given one year to propose solutions for the Upper Portion in order to secure federal funding earmarked for the project.

On another matter, Mayor Schmidt said she met with state officials regarding heavy traffic flow in the township along state and county roads. She said an "interim measure" will be an "Intelligent Traffic System" installed at congested intersections to monitor activity. The system includes surveillance video cameras.

State Assemblyman Alan M. Augustine, who represents the 22nd Legislative District, has suggested forming a task force of affected neighboring towns.

"We have to keep the heat up," Mayor Schmidt stated. "This is a very, very long-term project, but it’s moving along."

The township has said it will reject a bid of $24,667 for a new roof on the historic Osborn Cannonball House in favor of taking a new round of bids on Tuesday, October 28, at 3 p.m.

Officials said two contractors were prequalified for the work but only one bid came in and it was too high.

Officials also said that the township’s Sunday, December 7, deadline to complete the roofing may be too short and thus increases the proposed cost.

Council members have said in the past that they hoped to protect the interior of the house with a new roof before winter weather arrives, but officials may reconsider the tight deadline in the new round of bids.

The council said it would consider diverting more than $13,000 from other things to make improvements to the township’s senior citizen housing complex.

The council said it would adopt the new state policies for a municipal Public Defender. Douglas Hansen, the current township Public Defender, is paid under $5,000 a year, according to officials. The state guidelines raise application fees from $50 to $200 for public defense. The revenue from the fees goes directly to the township, not the attorney, officials said.

On a separate matter, the council agreed to raise the pay range for township clerks while transferring two of three employees in the Construction Official’s office from hourly wage status to salaries in the new range. Officials said the range increase would be "a few thousand dollars."

Councilman William McClintock, Jr., pointed out that salary ranges are periodically adjusted for inflation.

Township Manager Thomas E. Atkins told the council he met last week with township department heads to begin budget planning for next year. Another budget meeting was scheduled for this week, Mr. Atkins said.

A budget hearing open to the public will be planned for November, officials added.

Mr. Atkins also told the council that the Suburban Municipal Joint Insurance Fund, of which Scotch Plains is a member, was considering taking the Borough of Far Hills on board.

A public budget hearing for the Joint Fund will be held on Thursday, November 13. Some expenses will increase for next year, officials indicated, particularly professional contracts and auto liability costs.

Copyright 1997
TheWestfield Leader
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Revised: October 25, 1997
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