Portsmouth takes another step toward curbside collection

Council approves RFP for hybrid program that would keep transfer station open for bulky/diversionary items only

By Jim McGaw
Posted 5/24/23

PORTSMOUTH — In an attempt to find a solution to its trash collection problems, the Town Council Monday night narrowly passed a motion to advertise a request for proposals (RFP) to …

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Portsmouth takes another step toward curbside collection

Council approves RFP for hybrid program that would keep transfer station open for bulky/diversionary items only


PORTSMOUTH — In an attempt to find a solution to its trash collection problems, the Town Council Monday night narrowly passed a motion to advertise a request for proposals (RFP) to implement a hybrid waste management program in the future.

The proposal would offer a town-wide curbside collection program for residents, and keep the Hedly Street transfer station open only for bulky waste and other diversionary items.

Council members Daniela Abbott, Vice President Leonard Katzman, Charles Levesque and J. Mark Ryan voted in favor, while President Kevin Aguiar, David Gleason, and Keith Hamilton opposed the motion.

Council members said the RFP will be used to explore whether the option is financially feasible, and no decision has been made yet.

The problem facing the town was summed up by Abbott, who said out of 7,200 eligible households in Portsmouth, only 2,000 use the transfer station, which is designed to pay for itself under an enterprise fund. 

Fewer people are using the transfer station every year, since far more residents pay private haulers for curbside pickup. That means on top of escalating trash hauling fees, residents who do use the transfer station are seeing their vehicle sticker fees going up annually, and also have to pay extra for the PAYT bags.

“Clearly the system we have is not working for the Portsmouth taxpayer,” Abbott said.

Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr. and Public Works Director Brian Woodhead had been directed by the council to work with the town’s waste consultant to develop a waste management option to develop into an RFP including:

• curbside collection for all residents

• the elimination of the pay-as-you-throw (PAYT) bags at the transfer station

• using the transfer station for bulky waste and diversion materials

After approving the RFP for the hybrid program, the council had to vote on several other options as outlined by Woodhead. Here’s what else was approved:

Leaf and yard (L&Y) debris: The council voted unanimously to request that L&Y debris be collected curbside on a new 22-week schedule, with weekly pickups from April 1-30, pickups every other week from May 1 to Oct. 31, and weekly pickups from Nov. 1 to the second week of December. Public Works would continue to collect Christmas trees the second week of January. The council also voted unanimously to work with its consultant on what the bag limit (not the weight limit) should be.

Elimination of PAYT bags: To counter the negative effect that the elimination of PAYT may have on recycling, the council voted 5-2 (Gleason and Hamilton opposed) to downsize the default tote size from 90/95 gallons to 60/65 gallons for municipal solid waste (MSW) and mixed recycling; require PAYT bags for overflow MSW; and allow residents to swap out the 60/65-gallon recycling tote for a 90/95-gallon recycling tote. Woodhead’s presentation noted that the elimination of PAYT bags would remove the PAYT revenue stream and also require higher monthly fees per household for the curbside program.

Transfer station usage: For the deposit of bulky waste and diversionary items only, the council voted 6-1 (Gleason opposed) to have the transfer station open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 7 p.m. on either Tuesday or Wednesday. The council voted 5-2 (Gleason and Hamilton opposed) to keep the transfer station open on a weekly basis.

• Single hauler: In the most contentious part of the deliberations, the council voted 4-2, with one abstention, to go with a single curbside hauler for all residents. Aguiar and Katzman voted against the motion, while Gleason abstained.

Tempers flare

Most council members said contracting with one exclusive curbside hauler would not only be the cheaper option for taxpayers, but also cut down on the number of trucks traversing Portsmouth’s roads. 

A town ordinance would need to be enacted in order to enforce the proposal, and that didn’t sit well with Gleason, who labeled the idea “socialism at its finest” because there was no “opt-in or an opt-out offered,” leaving residents with no choice. 

Levesque responded to Gleason’s “socialism” remark by telling him, in a raised voice, “Don’t describe me. I think you’re a MAGA Republican, but I wouldn’t say that.”

As Aguiar tried to restore order, Gleason called Levesque “unruly.”

“Unbelievable,” Gleason added.

Several residents who spoke Monday night also opposed moving to a town-wide curbside program — or restricting services at the transfer station at all.

“I’m 84 years old,” said Joseph Dobrott of Richard Drive. “The only service I even get from the town is the transfer station.”

Larry Fitzmorris, president of Portsmouth Concerned Citizens, said the town’s roads can’t handle the number of trucks that would be required if everyone was enrolled in a curbside program. “Those machines are big,” he said, adding that residents should never be forced to go with curbside.

Kyle Fenton, of Canonchet Drive, said he enjoys the convenience of the transfer station, which allows him to deposit any number of items several times a week.

Gleason noted that of the 58 responses the town received to a “white paper” asking residents their opinions on the matter, only 17 said they preferred a curbside program. In addition, every resident who spoke Monday night said they preferred to keep using the transfer station, he added.

Ryan responded that he believed residents who rely on the transfer station have stronger feelings about it than those who go with curbside. That probably explains those responses, he said.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.