Residents blast proposed Casella landfill expansion in Southbridge
SOUTHBRIDGE – A longtime opponent of the Southbridge landfill told a local legislator he needed more than the allocated two minutes to speak against a proposed expansion of the facility that Casella Waste Systems manages on Barefoot Road.
Southbridge resident Paul W. Zotos said he needed three hours to talk about the years of information he's collected concerning the landfill.
The panel allowed Southbridge residents to speak first, because similar hearings were held recently in Charlton and Sturbridge.
Casella is proposing to expand the approximately 52-acre landfill on five parcels of approximately 7.25 acres. An overall expansion, with additional phases, aims to add more than 19 acres to the landfill.
But the DEP recently issued a "negative report" on the suitability of the 7-plus acres, based on three criteria. Casella, doing business as Southbridge Recycling and Disposal Park, asked for a reconsideration last week.
One of the criteria is related to the presence of agricultural land, and the others were related to contamination at the existing landfill.
The DEP's denial notes the presence of landfill contaminants in 15 private drinking wells in nearby Charlton.
Mary Jude Pigsley, a regional director for the DEP in Worcester, said a proposed expansion has to include plans to mitigate existing pollution or contamination. The Casella proposal provided for some mitigation, she said, "but we didn't feel it was substantial enough."
Meanwhile, when moderator state Rep. Peter J. Durant, R-Spencer, limited speakers' time to talk, Mr. Zotos, a former town cable access director, suggested he wanted to put forth a documentary.
"I'd really like you to allow me to produce a show, a three-hour show, just like you guys are producing tonight, that's anti-landfill, so we can all have enough time to say what we think," Mr. Zotos said.
Citing fellow Southbridge landfill opponent John Gatti, Mr. Zotos said Attorney General Maura Healey should be asked to create a task force to review the landfill.
He asked state DEP officials if Southbridge owned the biggest landfill operation in Massachusetts. It has a permit for 405,600 tons per year of municipal solid waste, but has been depositing about 300,000 tons at most to prolong its life expectancy.
Without an expansion the Southbridge site is expected to reach capacity next year.
Ms. Jude Pigsley said the Southbridge landfill had been eclipsed recently by the Waste Management-run landfill in Fitchburg and Westminster.
Kevin Buxton Sr. of Southbridge said that the private-public partnership had resulted in the town having too close of a relationship with the landfill operator.
Mr. Buxton, a charter member of the landfill oversight and sustainability committees, said the relationship had also influenced the town's curbside pickup to the point where people ask why they should even bother to recycle.
Maureen Doyle, a member of the Southbridge Conservation Commission and Landfill Oversight Committee, said that she was concerned about the proposed vertical expansion of the landfill, which is planned on top of an unlined cell.
Ms. Doyle said she's concerned about groundwater and for nearby McKinstry Brook and its feeder stream.
Before the dump is capped, she said, precipitation is going to percolate through the pile of accumulated chemicals. The decomposing trash, even after it is capped, will leach into the ground, leaving Southbridge with "a legacy" of contaminated groundwater.
But Richard Whitney of Southbridge said he disagreed with most of the speakers. He asserted the sky did not fall in Southbridge because of the landfill. He said he wasn't thrilled about the landfill when it began operation approximately 37 years ago, but he noted that the condition of the schools had more of a negative impact.
Mr. Whitney went on to ask Ms. Jude Pigsley for more clarity about whether the landfill is the source of the contaminated private wells.
Her statement drew applause.
John Pulawski of Southbridge said that when concerns were raised about the landfill 10 years ago, a local public official who Mr. Pulawski said is no longer serving said not to worry. The "the bad water" was headed to Sturbridge, and the "bad air would go to Charlton," Mr. Pulawski said he was told. Meanwhile, Southbridge would "get the money," he added.
State Sens. Ann Gobi, D-Spencer, and Ryan C. Fattman, R-Webster, and Rep. Paul Frost, R-Auburn ,also attended.
Thomas Cue, director of landfill development for Southbridge Recycling and Disposal Park, sat in the audience.
"We were not invited to participate in this meeting," Mr. Cue said before the meeting. "Consequently we are just here to listen this evening. We have always been and will continue to be available to the DEP, our elected officials, and our neighbors to answer questions based on science, fact and industry leading practice, should they wish to hear the answers."
Last week, the state DEP and Casella agreed in principle to each pay up to $5 million for the construction of a water line in Charlton, in the neighborhood of contaminated private wells.