Bowdoinham select board members at the special town meeting Wednesday. Payal Gangishetti.

By a margin of just two votes, Bowdoinham residents narrowly rejected the select board’s proposal to spend up to $40,000 from the Capital Improvements Reserve on design, engineering and permitting for a new recycling/transfer station.

A 72-70 vote rejected the board’s request at a special town meeting Wednesday.

The town is developing two possible plans for a future home for recycling and solid waste in the town, and the select board intends to present both plans to voters once the costs and details of each are figured out.

One option is to operate the recycling program at the existing recycling barn on Post Road, which will require additional upgrades to the facility to ensure its safety over time. The other option is to develop a new facility adjacent to the public works building, where the town is currently operating the program.

“I think today’s vote shows that everyone cares about the future of the town and the future of the recycling program,” Select Board Vice-chairperson Jeremy Cluchey said. “I think there is a solution out there. … I think we just got to keep working to figure it out.”

Cluchey added that the board would meet and discuss the future of the recycling facility at the upcoming meetings to figure out what the next steps look like.

Hank Ogilby, a Bowdoinham resident who voted against the board’s proposal, said he doesn’t feel they have been given enough information about the recycling transfer station facility.

“There are too many unanswered questions, and $40,000 seemed like an awful lot of money for a proposal where we did not know what that money was going to buy us,” said Ogilby. “We do have recycling a facility in town and we would like more information as to how they are exploring that facility.”

Another resident, Stuard Reynolds, who voted against the proposal, said the current recycling facility operated at the public works site is located at the end of the town.

“It is too far from where I stay, and that is my big concern,” said Reynolds. “Right now, it’s a single-source facility, and everything goes into the trash. My wife used to work at the old barn. It is a well designed facility with a place to recycle books and other things.”

Andy Begin, a resident of Bowdoinham, said he voted in favor of the proposal because he wanted to understand the feasibility of both design plans.

“I wanted to understand if we need to build a new facility or do, we use the old recycle barn, just so we can understand the cost to renovate both,” said Begin.

A majority of the residents feel the board will come up with an alternative solution that will benefit everyone.

In September, Town Manager Nicole Briand said the town is looking to hire a consultant to design the recycling facility at the former recycling barn. However, a decision has not been made if the town would lease a portion of the recycling barn for its operations or purchase the property.

According to Maine Department of Environmental protection data, Bowdoinham’s municipal solid waste recycling waste percentage has been on a constant decline over the last five years. While the town’s recycling rate was at 55% in 2015 it dropped to 38.37% in 2020.

David Berry, who owns the recycling barn, said that seeing so many people turn out to vote was good.

“It means that a lot of people in town are interested in this whole process and are looking for the best solution to this issue,” said Berry.

The town ran its solid waste and recycling program for three decades before vacating the recycling barn last fall. The town moved the operation to the public works building after an engineering firm identified several structural issues and the state fire marshal’s office identified additional fire safety issues.

Berry said he will continue the temporary pilot recycling program that he started at the barn this summer and plans to continue working with the gift shop at the barn, which volunteers run at present.

He said he is trying to put together a firm price for all the town’s improvements at the barn.

“These are the things the town is asking engineers to come up with, but I have an engineer that works with me, and I am trying to get together a firm price for repairs to the building, which won’t happen for several months as its time consuming,” said Berry.

Berry added that the barn needs simple wooden repair works like the heating system need to be fixed and other general improvements that local people can do for a reasonable price.

He is also trying to encourage the idea of source-separated recycling where people can separate all their cans, bottles, and plastic themselves instead of sending them to someone in another town to do it at an expensive rate.

“I am trying to come up with a way of running the operation. To begin with, which is going to be much more financially efficient for the town,” said Berry.

Berry added that he would be happy to sit down with the board members and talk about any aspect related to the barn’s future. Still, he thinks the entire process will boil down to getting firm numbers on what it would cost to bring the barn to the standards that the board has asked for.

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