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State OKs additional ash residue at Wheelabrator’s existing landfill

Members of the Alliance for Health and Environment stand across the water from Wheelabrator during a February 2018 press conference. (Spenser R. Hasak)

SAUGUS — The state will allow Wheelabrator Saugus to stage ash residue on its landfill before transporting the material off-site, and to place additional fill in two valleys on the landfill.

Officials from Wheelabrator called Monday’s decision the “best environmental and economic solution for the town,” but opponents of the proposal call it disturbing.

“The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) takes seriously its responsibility to protect public health and nearby resource areas, and following a comprehensive stakeholder process and review of Wheelabrator Saugus’ ash landfill permit application, has issued a permit that provides some short-term disposal capacity without increasing the size or height of the facility, ensures current environmental and containment systems operate properly and directs $2.5 million to repair a nearby abandoned landfill site,” said Edmund Coletta, MassDEP spokesperson in a statement.

The company was proposing two things—to stage ash residue on the landfill before transport off-site, and to place some additional fill in two valleys on the landfill, according to MassDEP spokesman Joseph Ferson. The requests were submitted separately as a Minor Permit Modification and a Major Permit Modification.

A final decision for the Minor Permit Modification was issued on Nov. 1 and allows Wheelabrator to temporarily stage ash residue within the limits of the landfill for transport to offsite ash management facilities, subject to specific conditions.

On the same day, MassDEP issued a provisional decision for the Major Permit Modification, which, as drafted, would allow Wheelabrator to place additional ash fill in two valleys within the limits of the landfill, subject to specific conditions.

The department received more than 1,800 written comments during a public comment period that ended in January, and reached a final to decision to approve of the permit application Monday. The decision can be appealed for the next 30 days.

The permit issued does not increase the landfill’s overall footprint or height. It will provide additional capacity of approximately 400,000 cubic yards, extending the life of the landfill by an estimated four-year period, according to MassDEP.

Any future vertical expansion of the landfill would require a full Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act review and permitting process, and local approval through the comprehensive site assignment process.

“We believe the MassDEP’s approval of the continued use of the monofill represents the best environmental and economic solution for the town, the region, and the state,” said Jim Connolly, Wheelabrator’s vice president of environmental, health, and safety. “The MassDEP’s review of the application was rigorous and transparent, and included extensive public comment. We remain open to a dialogue with the town about a long-term plan for Wheelabrator Saugus that will enhance our economic and environmental value to the community.”

State Rep. RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere), who chairs the Alliance for Health and the Environment, an organization opposed to the expansion of Wheelabrator, said in a statement that the decision is “more than troubling, it is irresponsible and reprehensible.”

“It is disturbing to me that the Commissioner could come to this determination after listening to and reading the compelling testimony of resident who live in Wheelabrator’s shadow, and that of environmental experts and local officials,” Vincent said. “Perhaps even more unsettling is that this agency did not take into account the severe flooding experienced by the neighborhoods surrounding the landfill in January and March.”

During the winter storms, Route 107 and Route 1-A were closed to traffic because the road was impassible.

“What the DEP has just authorized Wheelabrator to do flies in the face of everything the agency is supposed to stand for,” said Vincent. “Frankly, by allowing the only unlined landfill still in operation in the Commonwealth, and the only unbuffered landfill that is within an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, adjacent to water, and less than a half mile from the homes of thousands of people, to expand for an additional five to 10 years, MassDEP has failed to do its job in protecting my district and my constituents from this environmental injustice.”

The Alliance will determine its next steps in the coming days, and consider all options, including appeal and litigation, she said.

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