Friday, February 17, 2017
State DEP rejects report to expand landfill in Southbridge
SOUTHBRIDGE - The state Department of Environmental Protection on Wednesday rejected Casella Waste Systems' "site suitability" report seeking to expand the landfill.
The state said the report contained "insufficient information," and as such, the DEP couldn't determine the extent to which the public health, safety or the environment would be impacted.
Casella, doing business as Southbridge Recycling and Disposal Park on Barefoot Road, applied to the state last year.
The state's 36-page decision notes the presence of landfill contaminants in 15 private drinking wells in nearby Charlton.
The 51-acre town-owned, Casella-managed landfill already has a permit to dispose of 405,600 tons per year of municipal solid waste and residuals from construction and demolition debris. Casella has reduced the amount of waste to about 300,000 tons per year, to prolong the existing landfill. Without an expansion, the landfill is expected to reach capacity next year.
Casella is trying to expand the landfill by more than 19 acres in various phases. The application at issue concerns five parcels of approximately 7.25 acres.
The DEP's denial stated the applicant "mischaracterizes" what it said were low levels of some contaminants in landfill monitoring wells. The level of 1,4 dioxane, for instance, in an irrigation well at the landfill is more than 100 times higher than the drinking water guideline, the DEP said.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency lists 1,4 dioxane, which was detected in private wells in Charlton and Sturbridge, as a probable human carcinogen. It is a solvent used in many cleaning products.
The DEP's denial said that the applicant had not collected sufficient data to document the direction of groundwater flow and deep bedrock under and around the landfill, nor the distance that the contaminants from the existing landfill have migrated.
The DEP also said the application does not describe how a groundwater interceptor it proposes to install would mitigate groundwater contamination on the parcel.
Landfill opponent Kirstie L. Pecci of Sturbridge said that "this proves beyond a reasonable doubt" that the landfill is leaking heavy metals and volatile organic compounds, as well as a connection to the impacted neighborhood in Charlton. About 11 acres of the landfill are unlined. The state didn't require liners for landfill construction until about 1993.
"I'm really pleased that the MassDEP is working and making decisions to protect public health and the environment in our community," Ms. Pecci said. "We made a lot of noise," most recently during Monday's Sturbridge Board of Health meeting at which levels of contamination in private wells on McGilpin Road was discussed in emotional fashion.
"It was really a situation where citizens from all three communities and local and state officials all came together to oppose the expansion of this facility, and to ask that the MassDEP protect the health and environment of the region," Ms. Pecci said. "I'm really glad to see that the DEP heard us."
Southbridge Town Manager Ronald San Angelo, who states he remains neutral on a proposed expansion, despite Casella providing the town with more than $2 million a year in royalty payments and services rendered, said, "Clearly, they have rejected it at this time, but this doesn't mean in any way that this is the end of this discussion. My understanding is that the Casella organization has time to" tender additional information to petition the state for reconsideration, Mr. San Angelo said.
The landfill was initially site assigned by the Southbridge Board of Health in 1979, with changes in 1999 and 2008.
Claire Miller of Toxics Action Center, a non-profit organization that works with communities in New England to prevent and clean up pollution at the local level, said she was pleased with the DEP's decision.
"All of us were really prepared for the worst," Ms. Miller said. "Historically the DEP has approved expansions, and so we were just bracing ourselves. But I'm overjoyed to see the DEP has finally put a stop and halted at least one of the expansions of this really dirty, dangerous landfill that's already a really big mess. What could be worse than having families drinking, bathing and cooking with contaminated water?"
Thomas Cue, general manager of the Southbridge Recyling and Disposal Park, said in a statement, "While we at Southbridge Recycling and Disposal Park are disappointed that the Department of Environmental Protection declined to issue a favorable site suitability decision based on its conclusions with respect to certain elements of our submission, we are encouraged by the positive conclusion reached by the department on all of the other favorable determinations.
"We remain committed to pursuing this facility expansion, which will allow SRDP to maintain its position as a contributing community member in Southbridge," he continued. "We are confident that the facts support our position and will ask the department to reconsider our request for a favorable site suitability determination based on those facts."
Mr. San Angelo, the town manager, said the town would benefit by posing an expansion as a referendum question.
"I don't want to lead in that because it's something (a decision) that needs to be made by people who live here in Southbridge, who are town residents, who want to decide how big the expansion of this landfill should be," he said, adding that town councilors have also indicated that the issue is "bigger than them."
Regardless of whether there is an expansion, Mr. San Angelo said he remains committed to weaning the town off reliance of proceeds from Casella. That process began last year, he said. This year's budget process will take "another big step" toward removing Casella money from the town operating budget, Mr. San Angelo said.
The town needs to make a decision "based upon if they want to expand the landfill, not because we're being held hostage to the revenues of that landfill," the manager said.