A run-in with a raccoon led to a loud and dark problem at Wheelabrator in Saugus

Related: The town and Conservation Law Foundation appealed a state decision to continue active landfill use at the site.

Wheelabrator lost power and released steam after a raccoon created a short circuit at the site. (Chris Williams )

SAUGUS — It’s a bird, it’s a plane — no, it’s a racoon.

Saugonians leaped out bed Monday night, speculating that a plane had gone down somewhere in town. But Wheelabrator says the sound was actually the release of steam pressure at the trash to ash facility, which was caused by a racoon.

“The facility briefly suspended operations Monday night after a racoon tripped an electrical circuit,” said Peter Kendrigan, Wheelabrator’s general manager, in a statement. “For a period of approximately one hour, there was an audible release of steam to relieve pressure when the steam-driven turbine was taken offline. The entire facility was back online by Tuesday.

“We apologize to our neighbors for any inconvenience they may have experienced,” said Kendrigan. “We have taken additional animal-control measures and will work with the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the handling of any captured animals.”

But the sound was so alarming, Pevwell Drive resident Chris Williams jumped out of bed and ran outside. He said several of his neighbors did the same.

“It basically sounded like a jet engine landed on my front lawn,” he said. “That’s how loud it is. I have a fireplace in my bedroom and the sound just ripped down the fireplace.”

Williams jumped into his truck and followed the sound to the facility. He parked across the street, and stared into the darkness for 40 minutes.

“It was eerie,” said Williams. “The stack that is over 300 feet high was dark. It is supposed to be lit 24/7. There wasn’t even a hint of a flashlight moving around. Meanwhile there was steam pouring out. It was very eerie and very scary.”

Posts on Facebook revealed to Williams that the sound was heard as far as Main Street in Melrose, the Pine Hills neighborhood in Lynn, and along the Point of Pines in Revere.

Several 911 callers reported the loud sound, which they believed could have been coming from the area of Wheelabrator, according to the Saugus Police log.


Saugus, environmental group appeal state decision on ash landfill

Conservation Law Foundation appealed the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to allow the continued use of the facility’s ash landfill on Wednesday.

In a complaint filed May 9, the foundation wrote that “MassDEP’s final decision was based on an error of law, in excess of the statutory authority or jurisdiction of the agency, made upon unlawful procedure, unsupported by substantial evidence, and arbitrary or capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law..”

It argued that MassDEP approved the project, despite Wheelabrator never obtaining a required site assignment permit from the Saugus Board of Health.

“The Wheelabrator landfill is the most dangerous in Massachusetts, and it is putting the health of nearby residents at risk,” said Kristie Pecci, director of the Zero Waste Project and a senior fellow of the foundation in a statement. “The local site assignment process ensures that people who are directly affected by this expansion are heard. For that reason, state law grants the Saugus Board of Health ultimate authority over waste facilities in the town. Until the board determines whether the landfill is a potential danger to public health and safety as well as he environment, MassDEP legally cannot allow this project to move forward.”

The Board of Health, which notified Wheelabrator that it was required to apply for a new site assignment from the town in 2016, is also appealing the decision.

But in a statement, James Connolly, Wheelabrator’s vice president of Environmental Health and Safety, said that the permits will only allow Wheelabrator to continue the same operations and does not change the height, footprint, or lateral measurements of the landfill.

“The department considered all the technical issues associated with our operations, answered all public questions with thoroughness and specificity, and concluded that the monofill is safe and sound,” said Connolly.

“It is unfortunate that the Saugus Board of Health and the Conservation Law Foundation have indicated their intent to appeal the MassDEP’s decision allowing for the continued safe and environmentally responsible use of the monofill,” he said. “The Board of Health action will be particularly detrimental to the Town of Saugus. Just last year, the town spent taxpayer dollars to unsuccessfully defend its attempt to use the zoning process to close Wheelabrator Saugus – an action the state attorney general deemed unlawful and overturned.

“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,” he said.

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