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Kanawha recycling center cash crunch felt

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- At a Tuesday meeting, Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority board members toyed with ideas to generate income from the old county landfill in Cross Lanes.

When the landfill was closed in the 1990s, the Solid Waste Authority ended up in possession of the property. Authority board member Greg Sayre said only about half of the 50-acre property owned by the authority is actually made up of the landfill.

"Is it something we can sell?" Sayre asked. "Is it something we can timber?"

In March, the solid waste board voted to shut down the Slack Street Recycling Center because of safety concerns in the century-old building they were using to sort recyclables. The center has since reopened on a limited basis, but incoming materials and revenues have been slashed. Cities who used to bring their material to Slack Street are now going to Nitro or Beckley.

Sayre also said the Solid Waste Authority still has about $250,000 in an escrow account set up when the landfill was closed. State officials won't release the account until 2018, but Sayre wondered if there is a way to get the money earlier.

The authority lost about $30,000 in July. Last week, the authority took its last load of office paper under a contract to take recyclables from state offices.

Under the contract, the authority paid the state to take office paper but was able to make a profit reselling the materials. When Slack Street shut down, the deal made less sense, and the authority was unable to keep picking up state office paper after laying off half the recycling staff last month.

Diane Holley-Brown, spokeswoman for the state Purchasing Division, said state officials will rebid the contract to take the state's paper. In the meantime, individual state offices are on their own to find someone to take their recyclables.

Jeannie Gunter, Kanawha's interim solid waste director, said some offices are still bringing their paper to Slack Street. But members of the authority aren't interested in trying to get the state contract back if it means losing money.

Until a better solution can be found, solid waste officials are sending their office paper to Beckley. Gunter said the recycling program made about $7,700 from paper by taking it to Beckley in July, but spent about $6,000 in fuel, salaries and tolls to get it there. And she had to spend about $700 more when a truck blew a tire.

"The bottom line is, Beckley is just break-even," said board member Rod Watkins. He said the Solid Waste Authority could end up losing money taking material to Beckley.

"Why would we want 100 more tons of stuff [from the state] to take to Beckley to lose money?" he said.

Solid waste officials are slowly moving toward privatizing the county recycling program. A summer intern studying recycling for the authority suggested that most successful recycling programs have a public education component and a private company to haul, sort and process recyclables.

Gunter visited a recycling center in Ohio interested in taking Kanawha County's materials earlier this month. Solid waste officials want to eventually send out bid proposals to private haulers to collect the county's recyclables.

Also Tuesday, Sayre defended himself against a complaint filed with the West Virginia Ethics Commission accusing him of using his position to influence the state Solid Waste Management Board.

Earlier this month, the director of the Nicholas County Solid Waste Authority filed an ethics complaint, alleging Sayre is using his position as a lobbyist and executive director of the West Virginia Association of Waste Haulers and Recyclers in a battle with Nicholas County solid waste officials. Sayre suggests the complaint goes back to a seven-year dispute with the director over management of the Nicholas County Solid Waste Authority.

Sayre was appointed by the Department of Environmental Protection to serve on the board of the Kanawha County Solid Waste Authority. Other members of the board have been leery ever since of the potential conflict of interest in having a lobbyist and employee of private industry helping make decisions about a public recycling program.

Solid Waste Authority Chairwoman Kay Summers said she has been very clear with Sayre about which hat he is wearing during authority meetings. Board members said he has been good about recusing himself from decisions that involve his clients.

"I found it odd that Greg was on our board," said board member Kasey Russell. "It's a blatant conflict of interest, but he was appointed by the DEP."

However, Russell said she has seen no evidence that Sayre has not acted in the best interests of the board. "Maybe you've got a private agenda, but I don't think so," she said.

Board members conceded Sayre knows a lot about recycling. With the appointment of Sayre, "My first thought was, 'What were they thinking?'" said board member Richard Milam. "But I think we're better off with you here than without you."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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