Published March 20. 2013 4:00AM
Montville - Peter J. Schultz visits the transfer station every few weeks to dispose of his garbage. To him, the trip is more than just a chore. As he dropped off some items on Sunday, he declared the transfer station the town's "social center."
On second thought, he said, the dump might have competition from the Polish Citizens Club, which he visits mostly for funeral receptions.
"You go to the Polish club to die, and you go here to live," he said of the transfer station.
Residents' fondness for what some still call the dump contributed to the recent defeat of an ordinance proposing townwide curbside trash pick-up. The Town Council dropped the issue after residents packed the March 11 meeting to share their feelings on the proposal, which amounted to what Councilor Chuck Longton called "overwhelming nonsupport."
The people at that meeting leveled many criticisms against curbside pickup, but one recurring theme was that they just liked visiting the transfer station, which has become an important part of social life in town.
Joseph Hage said at the meeting that, for his kids, visiting the transfer station was like "Christmas every day."
"It's a piece of Montville that maintains that small town feel, and I don't want to see that go," he said, adding that this issue is the first that's moved him to comment on local politics.
When he referenced Christmas, Hage might have been referring to the area of the transfer station where residents may leave household goods that are usable but not nice enough to donate. Other visitors may browse these items and take what they want.
Chris Doucette, who was searching the free area with a friend on Sunday afternoon, said he often finds decent camping gear and tools there.
"We come and dump trash off and a lot of times find good, useful stuff," he said. "I like coming to the dump, personally."
William Rodriguez, who was browsing the electronics section, said he often picks up computer components - or even functioning computers.
He doesn't just enjoy visiting because of the free electronics, however. Rodriguez said he likes seeing the "really nice ladies" who work at the transfer station around town. Even though he doesn't know their names, he appreciates that they say "hi" to him at Dunkin' Donuts.
Part of the appeal of the transfer station is that it makes residents feel connected, but its role in the community is larger than that. The dump functions not only as a place to dispose of everything from cooking oil to construction debris, but also as a way for unwanted items to find the people who need them.
Resident Tom Krupa said he once came to dispose of a slightly broken, but fixable, washer and dryer. An employees there knew of a family in need of the same appliances and asked whether he wanted to help them out.
"We as a nation throw away so much stuff," Krupa said. Having to visit the dump rather than getting your trash picked up on the curb helps "get (a discarded item) where someone can use it."
The town's Re-Use Tag Sale program does just that. Residents with unwanted household items that are in decent shape may leave them in a specified donation area of the transfer station. Local nonprofits may retrieve then sell the items each week at the Fair Oaks School.
These sales are held by different groups each Saturday. The nonprofits in the program include community service organizations, Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, youth sports teams and Montville High School groups, each holding around three sales a year.
Saturday's tag sale was packed with dishes, appliances, sports gear, books and toys. The sale benefitted the Knights of Columbus, and Grand Knight Ron Fulton sat near the exit with two former Grand Knights around noon, talking with shoppers.
"The nicest people come in," former Grand Knight Paul Robillard said. He said meeting new people was "half the fun" of these sales.
It's a "very community-oriented operation - and I don't think you can put a price on that," he said.
Fulton said the sales were "a good idea all around" because they keep usable items out of the landfill, raise money for nonprofits and offer the organizations a chance to interact with the public. The three men were so enthusiastic about the program that they said they'd like to see other towns adopt it, mentioning Salem as a community that might benefit from such an effort.
The sale's effects reach far beyond Montville, said Krupa, another former Grand Knight at the tag sale. He said he knew a Haitian immigrant who often shopped at the sale, bundling dishes, checking the price and heading back to get more.
Krupa eventually asked the woman what she was doing and discovered that she was shipping them to friends and family in Haiti, where it is difficult to find dishes since the 2010 earthquake, she said.
Krupa, Robillard and Fulton said that some people have turned the sale's book section into something like a library. They'll purchase one of the books, read it, and leave it at the donation area during their next visit to the dump. Then the same copy shows up at a future tag sale.
Sandy Gregory, who volunteers with program, raised concern at the March 11 meeting that curbside pickup would hurt the tag sales.
"Residents not taking their trash to the transfer station will result in fewer donations for these sales," she said.
But based on Saturday's sale, that won't be a concern any time soon. The program is so supported that some residents could be seen haggling for higher prices Saturday.
When one woman presented a handful of artificial flowers to Fulton for pricing, he responded with, "How 'bout a dollar?"
"Just one?" the woman said, surprised. "How about two?"