Green Team comes up against hefty questions

A materials recovery facility is included in the county's updated solid waste plan.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Community activists told Mahoning County commissioners they want some questions to be answered about certain operations of the Reuse & amp; Recycling Division.
The division, better known as the Green Team, had several items on the commissioner's agenda, including a $455,614 agreement with the district health board to monitor the county's three municipal solid waste facilities.
John Paulette and Mark Cleland, both of Austintown, pointed out at the commissioners' meeting Thursday that the health board's job is to monitor those facilities. They said that recycling division money shouldn't be spent for health board personnel to do that job.
Mary Helen Smith, director of the health board's solid waste program, explained that the recycling money is used for salaries for board inspectors and equipment. The health board annually contracts with the recycling division for the service, she added.
The recycling division's policy board approved the funding at its May meeting.
Water testing
Water samples are tested for people living within a mile of the landfills, and the sampling is done twice a year. Right now, about 150 people participate in the sampling program, Smith said.
Paulette said he also was dismayed he hadn't been given the weight slips of the waste tonnage being brought to the county's three landfills. Paulette is concerned the slips don't match the amount of tonnage on record.
The commissioners turned the matter over to James Petuch, recycling director. Petuch said he would file an open records request on Paulette's behalf to get weight slips for the last five years from the Central Waste landfill in the village of Sebring, Mahoning Landfill in Springfield Township, and Carbon-Limestone Landfill in Poland Township.
The landfills send information to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency on how much waste tonnage is placed in the landfills. The landfills don't give that information to the Green Team, Petuch said.
"By law, I am required to pass on the public record request, and I will. We'll see what the reply is and go from there," Petuch said.
But he added, "I have no reason to suspect there is an inconsistency or problem with the weights being recorded and that the money we are receiving is correct."
Hauling fees
The recycling division gets the bulk of its funding from grants and fees charged to haulers to bring solid waste to county landfills.
The fees come in three tiers. The first tier is $1.50 a ton charged to haulers who bring material to the landfills from the county. The next tier, $3 a ton, is for material brought here from outside the county but within the state. The final tier is $1.50 a ton for out-of-state waste brought here.
Petuch explained that the federal Interstate Commerce Commission has ruled states can't discriminate for fees charged for in-state and out-of-state waste. That's why the amount is the same for waste brought from Youngstown or from Pennsylvania.
Finally, Paulette and Cleland said Petuch and the commissioners should do more to bring a materials recovery facility (MRF) to the county, which could generate millions in revenue and provide jobs.
Cleland said he saw a MRF in Portage County and was impressed with its operation. He wanted to know why Mahoning's recycling division wasn't behind such an operation here.
Petuch explained that he has always supported such a facility, but there were two major reasons why one isn't here right now.
First, he said, the facility was not in the division's last solid waste plan, updated every five years, that was submitted to the Ohio EPA, which must give its blessing.
The county's updated plan is due in Columbus in October, and the materials recovery facility has been added. If the OEPA approves the plan, then the county's largest municipality -- Youngstown -- and 60 percent of the rest of the county's population must approve it as well.
Not enough
Secondly, the county is not generating enough tonnage right now to feed a MRF, Petuch said.
"We have low recycling rate of about 101/2 percent [only 7,000 tons a year], instead of the state-mandated rate of 25 percent," Petuch said.
Portage County generates about 13,000 tons of recyclable tonnage a year for its facility. Petuch added that Portage figures show that although it brought in about $1 million a year from recyclable materials, the facility's operational cost was $1.2 million.
He added, however, that the shortfall could be because Portage pays for curbside recycling. Mahoning does not because Browning Ferris Industries-Allied Waste provides that service.
Finally, Petuch said he believes the criticism he's facing is unfair because he's only in his third month as director.
"They [critics] expect me to increase recycling amounts overnight," he said, adding that he told commissioners during his job interview it was going to take a few years to increase the county's recycling rate.

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