There’s a better approach for Saugus

For all the money the town of Saugus spends on special legal counsel, it might be time for officials to ask if they are getting maximum bang for their bucks.

A state Superior Court judge earlier this month shot down an appeal by the town Board of Health and the Conservation Law Foundation challenging the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to allow Wheelabrator to increase capacity in its incinerator ash landfill. 

The decision, reported in the Item on Aug. 7, shot down objections raised against Wheelabrator by noting, in the words of Justice Kenneth Salinger, that the landfill dates back to 1955 long before even the current state law regulating landfills was enacted. 

Strip away the legalese and it’s pretty easy to conclude that Justice Salinger had this to say to the town and the Foundation: “You don’t know what you are talking about.”

The Foundation is an advocacy organization and its mission is to take aim at any proposal its directors deem to be environmentally unsound. But in the wake of the court’s ruling, the time has come for Saugus residents and officials to ask why it makes sense to continue spending money fighting Wheelabrator. 

Arguments put forward by anti-Wheelabrator organizations such as the Alliance for Health and the Environment can’t stand up to state reports and findings indicating Wheelabrator is not posing a threat to the environment or town residents’ health. 

What the firm is doing is providing an important environmental service for communities who need to dispose of trash in the most environmentally-sound way possible. Wheelabrator has undergone numerous state reviews encompassing its landfill, as well as its emission systems and other operations. 

The company is a regional and local asset and organizations or officials who argue that it is not a positive contributor to Saugus should lay out facts and figures supporting their argument.

The Board of Health buttressed by the Foundation tried to argue that the landfill’s expansion was unlawful because the existing landfill site assignment only allowed municipal waste, not ash. To echo Salinger, that argument ignores the reality of how the landfill is being used.

There is nothing wrong with town officials raising cautionary flags about a major incineration operation. But there is a limit to the oversight role local officials enjoy. The correct jurisdiction for informed and authoritative oversight is the state and, in the case of Wheelabrator’s landfill, the state made a definitive ruling in support of Wheelabrator and a high court backed up that ruling.

Rather than continuously suing Wheelabrator, the town likely would be better served by sitting down with the company, which Wheelabrator has been requesting since 2016, to have a serious conversation about a shared future, i.e. a host community agreement which could greatly benefit the town financially. 

At any rate, It’s time to send the special counsel packing and move on to more pressing town concerns.

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