Saugus grills trash plant boss

SAUGUS – The Board of Health grilled a top Wheelabrator Technologies executive Monday for failing to keep the town abreast of environmental issues at the local trash incinerator that resulted in last week’s record-breaking $7.5 million settlement between the company and the state.William Roberts, vice president of operations for New Hampshire-based Wheelabrator Technologies, told the board the company denies all allegations contained in the lawsuit, which led to the settlement with the attorney general’s office, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Massachusetts Environmental Strike Force.The RESCO plant on Route 107, operated by Wheelabrator, released fly ash into the atmosphere through a hole in a building roof and also released water contaminated by ash into the surrounding marsh, according to the settlement.A pair of whistleblowers told state officials about the questionable conditions in Saugus, Andover and Millbury, opening an 18-month investigation and culminating in the highest fines ever imposed in Massachusetts for environmental violations.Board of Health Chairman Joseph Vinard said news of the settlement was upsetting. “It’s what we consider a real egregious situation,” he said Monday, telling Roberts the company has abused the privilege of operating in Saugus. “You wouldn’t have settled for this kind of money if something wasn’t going on down there.”The board voted unanimously Monday to hire a private engineering firm, Tech Environmental, to monitor conditions at the plant, where waste is burned and the captured steam used to turn turbines and make electricity. Vinard told Roberts the board expects Wheelabrator to pay for the monitoring done by the private firm.”The information we received was not forthcoming. You have lost your credibility with us,” said Vinard, suggesting Wheelabrator’s corporate culture was revealed by the fact that violations were found at three of its Massachusetts facilities.Roberts said the company takes pride in its safety and environmental track records. “We value our relationship with the town government,” he said. “Regrettably this entire process was frustrating for all of us.”According to Roberts, the company was not allowed to make any public comment during the investigation. “The process required we not talk to you,” he said. “We cooperated with the investigation completely.”Board of Health member Pamela Harris asked why the company would agree to pay $7.5 million in fines if it did nothing wrong.Roberts said it was strictly a business decision. “In the end, we decided to settle the matter to avoid years of litigation,” he said, reiterating no harm was done to the environment nor was the public health endangered. The hole in the roof where fly ash purportedly escaped was covered with fabric as a precaution while a construction crew repaired panels on the building exterior, he said. A spate of foul weather detached the fabric, but no visible signs of fugitive ash were detected, according to Roberts.As for complaints the company dumped a slurry of contaminated ash and water into the marsh, Roberts said a “geo tube” ruptured, causing a minor leak. The spill was so small it did not warrant reporting to environmental authorities and none of the material entered the wetlands, he said.Roberts vowed the company will report all spills, large and small, from this point forward. “We have nothing to hide,” he said.Harris was not appeased. “I don’t feel confident in your determination. There has been a total loss of trust. I’m appalled,” she said.Vinard was equally incensed. “You’re under the microscope in East Saugus,” he warned. “It’s not right and not good corporate citizenry.”Roberts recalled the waste-to-energy technology was pioneered in Saugus in 1975 and is used at many sites along the eastern seaboard. He said the company has been a responsible corporate neighbor for 35 years and plans to operate in Saugus for another 35.”Their credibility is totally dissolved after th

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