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Jim Hughson plans private transfer station

By Dan Hust
JEFFERSONVILLE — May 25, 2010 — Jim Hughson admits he’s building a private transfer station because (a) it’s a potentially good business investment, and (b) he’s no fan of Sullivan County government’s solid waste policy.
“This county is so fricked up, it ain’t funny,” the lifelong Jeffersonville resident vents. “First of all, they shouldn’t be in the [solid waste] business. Government can’t run a business.”
For 16 years, he’s run Jeff Sanitation, and for twice that span of time, his J. Hughson Excavating company has made a lasting impact – in the ground and in minds – across western Sullivan County.
His Jeffersonville headquarters sits along Route 52 just south of the village. The east branch of the Callicoon Creek flows past his equipment yard, an old landfill he bought in 1989 and subsequently closed, and the fields where he pastures about 65 head of cattle.
Perhaps by later this year, Hughson will also site his own transfer station between the road and the creek, running his trucks to there rather than county facilities – and then shipping that garbage to Pennsylvania.
He already hauls much of the trash he collects to a Scranton, Pa. landfill. For one, he says, it’s cheaper. For another, it saves him waiting in line at the crowded Ferndale transfer station, which is one of two county facilities able to accept haulers while a new, larger station is built next to the now-closed landfill in Monticello.
“With the county, I have no idea the direction they’re headed, and I don’t think they do either,” Hughson assesses.
A brewing anger
His frustrations with county government go back to the 1990s when he first got going in the trash pickup business.
He remembers county leaders trying to stop private haulers from importing trash to county facilities – then the county started importing to its own landfill.
“They called it ‘the cash cow’,” he remembers.
Tipping fees, he says, were $35 per ton for the importers, while locals had to pay $85 per ton.
“We couldn’t get that cheap rate,” says Hughson.
Money was squandered, he adds, with county officials constantly siphoning funds from the landfill’s profits, instead of paying off its mounting debts.
“That excess vanished,” he says. “And now they want us to pay for closing the landfill!”
Flow control on tap?
The latest idea is to implement flow control, which would require all trash generated in Sullivan County be disposed in the county. It’s yet to become a formal recommendation to legislators – who then have to vote on it – but it’s already got Hughson steamed.
“None of them ever call me to ask how things are going and what they should do,” he says of legislators.
But their decision could greatly impact his transfer station initiative, possibly prohibiting him from hauling to Pa. and halting future plans to open the station up to ordinary citizens.
Hughson considers trash a commodity, protected by the rules of interstate commerce, and he seems ready to test that belief in court.
“I think they’re opening themselves up to a good lawsuit,” he warns.
County Manager David Fanslau, however, says that issue has already been settled by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“He probably needs to read the Oneida-Herkimer decision,” Fanslau remarks.
The nation’s highest court ruled in 2007 that upstate Oneida and Herkimer counties could enact flow control so long as the facilities to which the trash is directed are publicly owned.
In Sullivan County, legislators have affirmed that they want the county to be involved in the collection and processing of trash, and Fanslau says that requires a formal policy and plan – one being reworked right now.
He believes the county will not become a trash monopoly, pointing out that its tipping fee structure must remain competitive with neighboring counties.
Still, the county is researching the legality of a private transfer station, which Hughson believes may be the first of its kind locally. County Attorney Sam Yasgur said he’s still conducting that research.
County says it’s willing to work with Hughson
As for Hughson’s issues with the county’s solid waste system, Fanslau said he’s welcome to contact him or Solid Waste Director John Kehlenbeck.
“We also have a conference call at 11 a.m. every Wednesday,” Fanslau explains, open to all haulers servicing local properties. “We want to manage those issues on a week-by-week basis as we hear them.”
Hughson, says Fanslau, has yet to participate in those calls, and he’s not a heavy user of county solid waste facilities.
As for delays, hours are being extended for haulers at both Ferndale and Mamakating, and by the end of the year, the new Monticello station – capable of taking in 800 tons of trash per day – should be open.
Fanslau admits there have been waiting lines at the existing transfer stations.
“We’re really using stations that weren’t meant to take this kind of volume,” he explains, noting both Ferndale and Mamakating cannot take in more than 302 tons per day.
Permits, construction remaining
In the meantime, Hughson is pressing ahead with his plans to build an 88x100-foot, single-story facility which will add two more employees to his 16-man staff. They’ll sort through recyclables and non-recyclables inside the completely enclosed metal building.
He still needs permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Town of Delaware Planning Board.
In fact, he’ll be in front of the planning board at its next meeting for a public hearing on the project, scheduled for Wednesday, June 9 at 7:30 p.m. in the town hall in Hortonville.
Board members will be faced with a 61-year-old who, despite having just recovered from a briefly debilitating stroke, still has fire in his eyes.
“This is my last hurrah,” Hughson says of the private transfer station. “I’ve still got some ambition in me, and I don’t like to see things die.”
He worries about the prospects for his business, even though he’s sure there’s money to be made. It’s not the town or DEC, which he says have treated him well and are working with him on this project.
It’s the county.
“I want to operate legally, but you’re telling me what I can do with my commodity?” he asks incredulously. “That’s not fair!
“It’s very upsetting,” he adds. “I’m just trying to survive.”

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