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Court backs DEP and Wheelabrator over Saugus

SAUGUS — A judge decided Wheelabrator will be allowed to increase its capacity to store incinerator ash, despite opposition from neighbors.  

A Suffolk Superior Court judge denied the appeal of a Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) decision to allow Wheelabrator to reduce the landfill’s top slope gradient and raise the lowest parts of the landfill to increase its capacity to store incinerator ash. 

The appeal was filed by the Saugus Board of Health and the Conservation Law Foundation in May 2018, a month after the state decision. The appeal argued that the expansion was unlawful because the existing site assignment only allows municipal waste, not ash.

Last week, Suffolk Superior Court Justice Kenneth Salinger said that this was not the case. 

“Their assertion that DEP could not modify the operating permit because the board never assigned this site as a location for a landfill is without merit,” he wrote. “This site was being used as a landfill when the Solid Waste Management Act was first enacted; it has therefore been assigned for landfill purposes by operation of law since 1955.”

The decision affirmed the determination by the state’s top environmental agency that the facility “poses no threat to public health, safety, or the environment,” said Jim Connolly, Wheelabrator’s vice president of environmental health and safety.

“Among other findings, the court ruled that the DEP’s approval — which determined that Wheelabrator’s continued use of the monofill did not have any impact on the environment, including the Rumney Marsh — was supported by substantial evidence,” said Connolly. “The court also found that the slurry wall, designed to contain ash, is at least as effective as a traditional liner, and that the landfill has a valid site assignment.”

Rep. RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere) called the ruling worrisome from an environmental and quality of life standpoint, but said she was not surprised. 

“I am deeply troubled by last week’s Suffolk Superior Court decision, which would allow Wheelabrator Saugus to move forward with their plan to uncap portions of the landfill closest to the Pines River and dump another 500,000 tons of ash into its unlined landfill,” said Vincent, a member of the Alliance for Health and the Environment. The Alliance is a coalition of environmental organizations and public officials who are against the expansion of Wheelabrator. 

“Although disturbing, the decision is not surprising because precedent had already been set when the state allowed Wheelabrator to fill the other valleys without requiring the company to go before the town for a site assignment,” said Vincent. “The Alliance for Health and the Environment is currently evaluating options, and everything, including an appeal of this reckless decision, remain on the table.”


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