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Saugus keeps its eye on attorney general

ITEM FILE PHOTO
Pictured is Wheelabrator Saugus.

By BRIDGET TURCOTTE

SAUGUS — The town is waiting for a decision from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office on whether three zoning bylaw changes that affect the operation of Wheelabrator Saugus will be passed.

Town Clerk Ellen Schena submitted a package with all necessary materials to the attorney general about 10 days after the Feb. 6 Special Town Meeting’s overwhelming approval of three zoning bylaw changes that will affect current and future landfills.

The attorney general has 90 days to review the zoning changes and report back to the town with a decision, said Town Counsel John Vasapolli. The amendments will go into effect once they have been posted.

The changes will affect the operation of Wheelabrator Saugus, an energy-from-waste facility that provides disposal of up to 1,500 tons per day of waste from 10 Massachusetts communities, according to James Connolly, Wheelabrator vice president of environmental health and safety.

A Special Town Meeting approved definitions to be added to the town’s zoning bylaws for “ash,” “landfill” and “ash landfill.” An addition will be made to the Environmental Performance Standards section that restricts the elevation of a landfill to 50 feet above mean sea level.

“No new landfill or new ash landfill shall be established in or adjacent to an Area of Critical Environmental Concern and no existing landfill or ash landfill shall be expanded in or adjacent to an Area of Critical Environmental Concern,” reads the second article, which was passed 25-8.

The third article, passed 31-2, alters the Table of Use Regulations under Zoning By-Laws, Article V, Section 5.6, by adding the principal use “landfill/ash landfill” to only be allowed in areas with industrial zoning and would require a special permit.

The zoning by-law changes must be approved by the attorney general. During the meeting, Peter Kendrigan, general manager of Wheelabrator Saugus, said passage of the articles would result in another court case for the town.

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In a Jan. 6 letter to the Saugus Board of Selectmen, John Daukas of Goodwin Procter law firm on behalf of Wheelabrator wrote an objection.

“As the proposed amendment is patently illegal for the reasons found by the court in 2005, it would be improper for the Town Meeting to consider let alone adopt it,” Daukas wrote. “Therefore, if the Town Meeting adopts the proposed amendment, Wheelabrator immediately will file suit to once again have the restriction struck down as null and void, and will seek to recover its legal fees and any associated costs or damages from the town.”

Connolly said a substantially similar zoning amendment was adopted by the Saugus Town Meeting in 2003 and annulled by the Land Court in 2005. He called the articles illegal and said they will result in unnecessary and costly litigation for the town’s taxpayers.

“Wheelabrator Saugus is an integral part of the region’s environmental and economic infrastructure, providing Massachusetts communities and businesses with an environmentally sound way to convert post-recycled waste to clean energy while creating millions in economic benefits to the Town of Saugus, including jobs, taxes and support for community organizations and activities,” Connolly said in a statement Monday. The articles passed by Town Meeting threaten our ability to keep providing these environmental and economic benefits while denying Saugus taxpayers additional potential benefits of a shared future, such as a negotiated host community agreement.”

Rep. RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere), who heads the Alliance for Health & the Environment, a coalition of organizations and public officials that requested the Special Town Meeting, said Wheelabrator is bullying residents by attempting to “stomp on the town’s right to control its own zoning ordinances.”

“Sadly, this company is trying to silence the town into remaining complacent about the unlined ash landfill that was supposed to close over 20 years ago,” Vincent said last month. “The residents of Saugus, especially the Town Meeting members, should not be intimidated by threats. The time is now to right this wrong and stand up for the public health of the community. What is happening in Saugus is exactly why the term environmental justice was created.”


Bridget Turcotte can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @BridgetTurcotte.

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