2015-01-09 / Front Page

Changes coming to transfer station

By Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


A plan prepared by Woodard & Curran engineering consultants using a Google Earth photo of the Cape Elizabeth Transfer Station, shows where new parking spaces for unloading will be placed in relation to the compactor, where residents toss their trash. (Courtesy image) A plan prepared by Woodard & Curran engineering consultants using a Google Earth photo of the Cape Elizabeth Transfer Station, shows where new parking spaces for unloading will be placed in relation to the compactor, where residents toss their trash. (Courtesy image) CAPE ELIZABETH — A safety review commissioned in the wake of a recent death at the Cape Elizabeth Transfer Station will result in traffic pattern changes to be instituted at the facility as soon as Jan. 21.

The nine-page report, prepared by Woodard & Curran engineering consultants at a cost of $12,000, calls on residents to walk their trash to “the hopper” from newly designated, diagonal parking spaces. Those spots will be located about 10 feet from the unit, where trash is kept until compacted into a trailer for eventual transport to the ecomaine waste-to-energy facility in Portland.

The change is a temporary measure, pending review of the entire complex by an ad hoc committee created last month.


At a town council workshop Monday, Cape Elizabeth officials, including (from left), Councilors Jessica Sullivan and Jamie Wagner, and Public Works Director Bob Malley, look on as Randy Tome, senior vice president at Woodard & Curran engineering consultants, presents his firm’s recommendations for safety improvements at the town transfer station, following the Nov. 24 death of a local resident at the facility. (Duke Harrington photo) At a town council workshop Monday, Cape Elizabeth officials, including (from left), Councilors Jessica Sullivan and Jamie Wagner, and Public Works Director Bob Malley, look on as Randy Tome, senior vice president at Woodard & Curran engineering consultants, presents his firm’s recommendations for safety improvements at the town transfer station, following the Nov. 24 death of a local resident at the facility. (Duke Harrington photo) Currently, residents back their vehicles directly perpendicular to the hopper, within inches of a bumper rail, for unloading. However, in recent years congestion at the site has led to some residents parking elsewhere and walking their bags to the unit, where they toss their trash over a chain link fence, designed to keep people from falling in.

Herb Dennison, 79, was reportedly doing just that on Nov. 24 when hit by a Ford Explorer, driven by Christine Sharp-Lopez, 72. According to Police Chief Neil Williams, Sharp-Lopez’s vehicle “accelerated suddenly” as it backed toward the hopper. It struck Dennison, knocking him through the fence and into the hole. The bumper rail kept the Explorer from falling into the hopper after Dennison. Still, he was declared dead when emergency personnel arrived on the scene.

According to Town Manager Michael McGovern, the ages of Dennison and Sharp-Lopez highlight the biggest problem with the current layout of the transfer station, as well as the greatest challenge to any redesign.

“I have to be really careful how I say this with newspaper reporters here, but the system we have here today that has 80-year-olds backing into a structure, it is not the ideal situation,” he said. “We’re an old community, among the oldest in Maine, which is the oldest state in the nation. We have a population that is struggling to use this facility as it is, and we’re not really making permanent improvements yet that address that.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of all U.S. residents in 2013 was 37.4 years old, compared to 43.5 in Maine and 46.8 in Cape Elizabeth, where as of 2010, 16.1 percent of the population was 65 or older.

During an hour-long debate Monday, town councilors bandied about ideas to aid the elderly, including a theoretical conveyor belt system to carry trash from resident vehicles to the compactor. At the very least, they agreed, the town should provide carts to help older residents move their trash across the expanse from the new parking area to the hopper.

Williams said a Jan. 6 email that a “vehicle autopsy” turned up no mechanical failure in Sharp-Lopez’s Explorer.

“The operator stepped on the gas instead of the brake causing rapid acceleration,” he said, citing a cause for the accident.

A report on the accident was prepared by the Cape Elizabeth Police Department and sent to the Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office. However, Williams declined to release that report because the incident is, “still under investigation [and] due to be reviewed by the D.A.’s office in the next couple of weeks.”

That review will determine whether charges will be filed in connection with Dennison’s death.

Less than a month before Dennison was killed, the Cape Elizabeth Town Council determined changes needed to occur at the facility. Review of the complex, located, perhaps ironically, on Dennison Road, which was named in Herb Dennison’s honor, is a council goal for 2015. That review was fast-tracked after Dennison’s death, with Woodard & Curran hired less than a week later.

In addition to commissioning the Woodard & Curran report on short-term fixes to the transfer station, the town council on Dec. 8 created an ad hoc committee to rule on long-term solution.

Members of that five-person committee, chosen by council Chairman Katharine Ray, include Councilor Jessica Sullivan and Jamie Garvin, from the town’s recycling committee, along with residents William Brownell, Anne Swift-Kayatta and Charles Wilson.

Brownell, a former U.S. District Court magistrate judge, is on the Fort Williams Advisory Committee. Swift-Kayatta, one-time president of the Maine Municipal Association, served 12 years on the Cape Elizabeth Town Council. Wilson is a former town fire chief. He was chairman of the committee that last reviewed solid waste and recycling efforts in the town, in 2003.

“We will be looking this comprehensively, for the long term,” said Sullivan, on Tuesday.

The long-term planning committee report is due for delivery to the town council on June 30. Woodard & Curran also will assist with that document. Town Manager Michael McGovern said Tuesday that Woodard & Curran will charge $60,000 for its work on the long-term solutions report.

The $72,000 for both Woodard & Curran reports will come from anticipated year-end savings in the town’s public works budget, McGovern said.

Of more concern than the cost, however, is the need to improve traffic patterns to improve safety at the site.

Woodard & Curran Senior Vice President Randy Tome and Project Engineer Megan McDevitt visited the transfer station on Dec. 3 and 13 to prepare their list of recommendations.

“It was eye-opening, that’s for sure,” said Tome, at Monday’s council workshop. “We managed to get a flavor of what’s going on up there on the busiest days. It’s remarkable how well people have gotten used to the facility. It’s kind of a dance that was going on all the time. But even then there was jamming on the brakes and quick stops, and things like that.”

Tome also worked on the last official review on the site, in 2003.

“In 10 years, the traffic at the site has certainly increased,” he said.

For that reason, McGovern said it may be time to institute a complete overhaul of the transfer station, or else farm the service out to a private contractor.

“We’ve been trying to do a do-it-yourself model with an industrial-type activity,” he said. “That’s why a lot of communities no longer have these types of facilities. Cape Elizabeth has traditionally had [an attitude of] let’s try to accommodate everybody, every which way we can. We’re used to ‘Let’s make it work,’ but that may not be a solution for the next 20 years.”

Woodard & Curran presented two traffic flow alternatives in addition to the one it recommended — one that would allow cars to continue backing up the hopper, and one which would drive up parallel to it, one at a time.

Councilors debated the merits of all three plans for more than an hour, cherry picking aspects of each until one thing became clear.

“No solution I’m hearing is ideal. None,” McGovern said.

Work on solutions devised by the long-term planning committee probably will not be implemented until spring 2016, McGovern said. With that in mind, Councilor Caitlin Jordan said it was important to pick one short-term fix and stick with it.

“The reality I see is, the more we keep changing things, the more confusing it’s going to be,” she said. “Even if it’s not ideal, we’ll probably stick with it until the long-range plan is figured out, because you can’t be changing the plan every couple of months because it might not be working.”

Public Works Director Bob Malley said after the meeting that he would get together with Tome and McDevitt this week to determine which council suggestions, if any, will be incorporated into the new site design. He agreed with Jordan that changes will likely remain in place for at least the next year.

“We will send a mailing out to everybody in the community letting them know what the changes are, along with a diagram, to give them a sense of what the traffic pattern’s going to be,” he said. “We want to get that letter out next week, and we’re shooting to have the changes in place by Wednesday, Jan. 21.”

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