STONINGTON — In an effort to avoid a shutdown, the Stonington Transfer Station is setting some restrictions and temporarily changing its operations.
The town announced Tuesday that the transfer station would be closing for one week to allow for disinfecting and restructuring, then would open by appointment only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. The transfer station will remain closed on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The station will be closed until Thursday, April 2, at which time the new schedule will go into effect.
First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough and John Phetteplace, the director of Solid Waste and Recycling for the town, each said Tuesday that the decision was made after the transfer station saw a drastic rise in use over the past week that made implementing social distancing impossible.
“Over the past two weekends, our staff has seen a record number of cars come through the transfer station. On Saturday alone there were an estimated 400 cars that went through, and several instances where people were not adhering to the six-foot social-distancing guidelines,” Chesebrough said.
“A number of surrounding towns have already closed or are considering closing, but we know this service is essential and we don’t want it to come to that,” she said.
According to Phetteplace, the traffic on weekends regularly picks up in late March and early April, but the recent increase exceeds the normal spike. He noted that it isn’t just impacting weekend traffic either, with Monday seeing activity that is more traditionally seen on a Saturday than the first day of the typical work week. Town officials attributed the rise to people getting an early jump on spring cleaning while stuck in home confinement.
Phetteplace said the challenge is that with so many people coming at once, the transfer station is unintentionally becoming a gathering place with neighbors who had been in home confinement chatting with one another and crowds easily exceeding the CDC guidelines of no more than 10 people.
Staff has worked hard to keep traffic flowing and prevent delays, Chesebrough said, but have not been able to keep up with demand. And allowing that many people to congregate in one confined area is not safe, she said.
“We are trying to keep in step with recommendations and maintain flexibility, but we will need cooperation,” Cheesebrough said. “For the foreseeable future, we will seek to implement these guidelines.”
The new schedule will include five slots every 15 minutes and slots will be filled by appointment only. Phetteplace said if the schedule goes as planned, the effort would slow traffic considerably while still allowing around 85 people through per day.
To schedule a slot, residents are asked to call 860-535-5088 between 9 a.m. and noon, Monday through Friday. No same-day appointments will be made and residents may only schedule during station hours.
Phetteplace said he and town staff understand how important use of the transfer station is for local residents and businesses including landscapers and contractors, and he hopes the efforts will address issues moving forward.
In the meantime, he encouraged local residents to make use of the town’s curbside trash and recycling pick-up service. He encouraged residents to take a moment, however, and make sure bags are tied and sealed to prevent possible COVID-19 exposure to sanitation workers.
“We are hoping this will all work out, but we do stress that the restrictions are only temporary,” Phetteplace said. “After this period is done, we will return to our normal business hours.”