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As MIRA Closure Draws Near, Hartford Seeks Alternatives For Its Trash

Cloe Poisson
Connecticut Mirror

The city of Hartford is looking for a new company to handle its trash and recycling. The search comes as a major trash plant that takes in around one-quarter of the state’s garbage is slated to close.

The Materials Innovation and Recycling Authority (MIRA) says it will close its trash-to-energy plant next year, citing financial issues and aging equipment.

Still, MIRA hopes to take in trash from its roughly 50 member towns by converting its current trash incinerator in Hartford into a transfer station for garbage. But to do that, the agency has lots of regulatory hoops to jump through in a relatively short amount of time.

In the meantime, Hartford is looking elsewhere.

“June 30 of this coming year, 2022, the MIRA waste-to-energy facility — the incinerator — is slated to shut down,” said Michael Looney, Hartford’s director of public works. “There’s a lot of uncertainty as to what the situation with MIRA is going to look like once we get past that date.”

Looney said that uncertainty convinced the city it was time to start looking for new vendors who could handle the city’s trash and recycling. Hartford has sent its waste to MIRA facilities since the mid-1980s.

“We haven’t tested that market in a long time,” Looney said. “I want us to be better informed about what our choices are going forward and what the cost might be of those choices.”

Hartford’s solicitation seeks vendors who would work with the city to dispose of trash and recycling. That garbage would continue to be picked up by city-operated trucks.

MIRA President Tom Kirk said Hartford’s current solicitation seeking new vendors looks similar to a request for proposals Hartford recently issued.

“It appears to be very similar to the one Hartford issued a few months ago, and I understand did not get much of a response,” Kirk said. “If it is similar, I’m not sure what’s changed.”

About four months ago, Hartford issued a different solicitation for trash disposal services.

Looney said the city got “two responses that were basically non-responses,” because Hartford didn’t commit to vendors how much garbage it would send them and vendors didn’t provide the city any pricing information for their services.

“So we revamped some of the language in the RFP and reposted,” Looney said.

Peter Egan, MIRA’s director of operations and environmental affairs, questioned a provision in the nearly 50-page reposted RFP, which allows Hartford to terminate its contract with a vendor with only seven days of notice.

Egan said a short termination window could be seen as a risk by vendors who typically work on longer time scales to pay for the transportation of trash to its final disposal destination.

“No bidder is going to agree to a contract that lets the city of Hartford simply say, ‘You know what, here’s seven days’ notice, we’re going to do something else with our garbage,’” Egan said.

In an email Looney said, “That’s our standard language for RFPs for professional services and consulting services. We reserve the right to make the notice period as little as 7 days. However, given the nature of this service, our final negotiated contract with a successful bidder would likely have a longer notice period.”

Currently, the city pays a fee of $105 per ton for garbage brought to the MIRA incinerator.

Hartford’s current contract with MIRA extends until June 30, 2027, but the city will be given an opportunity early next year to opt out of the contract.

If the city takes advantage of that opt-out, Looney said the RFP would aim to line up a vendor for the next five years.

During that time, he said he hopes Connecticut figures out a solution to a waste crisis that will likely result in sending hundreds of thousands of tons of garbage to out-of-state landfills.

“Hopefully we do find an option that saves money for the taxpayers and helps the city’s budget,” Looney said. “We’re really looking at a five-year time horizon during which time I think, as a region, and as a state, we need to really come together and figure out a longer 20-, 30-, 40-year solution to our waste-handling situation in Connecticut.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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