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Wheelabrator Saugus could face up to $600,000 in fines for alleged noise regulation violations

SAUGUS — Wheelabrator Saugus could face fines of up to $600,000 for alleged noise regulation violations. 

The Saugus Board of Health sent a show-cause notice to Wheelabrator that outlines state and local noise regulations the company has allegedly violated and requests an explanation.

Last month, a steam turbine at the plant was taken out of use for repairs and steam that would normally power the turbine to create energy was instead being released directly into the air. A silencer was being used to mitigate the sound of the escaping steam, but neighbors compared the noise to a plane constantly flying overhead. After 10 days, the plant shut down operations for three days until an enhanced silencer could be installed. 

But neighbors, including Revere resident Loretta LaCentra, said the enhanced silencer didn’t eliminate the noise, it just changed it. 

“After three days of relief, once again, we are living with a noise nightmare,” said LaCentra. “Rather than a jet engine noise, it is more like a freight train.”

Attorney George Hailer, who was hired as special counsel for the matter, advised the panel that the noise violated a state law that says “no person shall willfully, negligently, or through failure to provide necessary equipment, service, or maintenance, or to take necessary precautions cause, suffer, allow, or permit necessary emissions from said source of sound that may cause noise.”

If representatives from Wheelabrator do not show up at the meeting to explain and defend why they are not in violation of this law, they could face fines of up to $25,000 per violation, said Hailer. The fine accrues daily.

“From our estimate, that could be in the range of $600,000 for this violation,” said Hailer.

There is also a Saugus bylaw that regulates solid waste facilities and gives the board the authority to have a hearing to rescind, suspend, or modify a facility’s site assignment if “operations at the facility have resulted in a threat to public health, safety, and the environment.”

Finally, there is a Board of Health regulation against nuisances, including auditory nuisances. Offenses carry a fine of $299 per day, said Hailer. 

Michelle Nadeau, Wheelabrator Director of Communications and Community Engagement, declined to comment on whether a representative from the company will attend the meeting because the letter from the Board of Health has not yet been received. Without the letter, she is unable to comment on its specifics, she said.
“Wheelabrator operates in compliance with all permits as well as all federal, state, and local environmental and public health regulations, which are among the most stringent of any industry,” said  Nadeau in an email. “During repairs earlier this month, the waste-to-energy facility vented steam that was audible to some of our neighbors. We apologize to those neighbors who were inconvenienced by the sound.”

Debra Panetta, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, said she received dozens of emails and phone calls about the noise coming from Wheelabrator. 

“They should have had a solution for what they were going to do for the noise before they took that turine to get it refurbished,” said Panetta. “They should have communicated that game plan with the Board of Health.”

Wheelabrator should be held accountable for what has happened, said Panetta. 

“We’re not turning a blind eye and we’re not going to ignore it,” said Bill Heffernan, chairman of the Board of Health. “We will pursue all legal action to hold Wheelabrator accountable. This is the first step to letting them know we’re holding them accountable.”

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