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Residents rally, heated over Wheelabrator noise

Gina Vanderloop of Revere rallies outside Saugus Town Hall. (Bridget Turcotte)

SAUGUS — Several dozen Saugus, Revere and Lynn residents rallied outside Saugus Town Hall in response to what they describe as “an unprecedented noise assault” caused by Wheelabrator. 

“The issue of noise that we are talking about tonight shows that this is a real quality of life issue,” said Rep. RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere), as she addressed the Board of Health at the meeting that followed. “Sadly it doesn’t appear the state or the courts are going to help us — We are looking towards you.” 

In June, 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 released directly into the air. A silencer was 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. 

Jim Connolly, Wheelabrator’s vice president of environmental health and safety, said there was no way for the company to know that the silencer would not be effective. The enhanced silencer was brought in when neighbors complained and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection was informed of the company’s plans to do the maintenance.

“Our goal is to be a good neighbor,” said Connolly. “If we failed to do that, we want to do better.”

An engineering evaluation will be completed to determine why the silencer was not effective, said Connolly.

Still, neighbors argue the enhanced silencer didn’t eliminate the noise, it just changed it.

Gina Vanderloop, who lives in the Point of Pines neighborhood of Revere, said neighbors are still being subjected to noise that is louder than usual. 

“I’d like to see the Board of Health actually take some action,” said Vanderloop, who held a sign that read “there is no planet b.”

Ann Devlin, a Saugus Town Meeting member and environmental advocate, called on the board to “do what the state has not done. Demand accountability for the people of Saugus and surrounding communities.”

Attorney George Hailer, who was hired as special counsel for the matter, advised the Board of Health last month 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.”

Wheelabrator 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. 

Chairman Bill Heffernan said he doesn’t expect the panel to decide whether it will take legal action anytime soon. He estimated it could take 30 days. 

“We heard the constituents of Lynn, Saugus and Revere clearly,” said Heffernan. “We have been given an awful lot of information tonight and we have a lot to consider … Your comments tonight do not fall on deaf ears.”

 

 

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