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Saugus public comment sought

State DEP launches website to get town feedback on Wheelabrator’s plans to expand ash landfill

For the second consecutive year, Saugus residents will have a chance to comment to state environmental officials on Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc.’s plans to expand its ash landfill.

Meanwhile, the town’s Board of Health will await a decision by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Wheelabrator’s requests for permits to begin the project before following through with legal threats to block it. “The Board of Health will wait to see what the decision is by the DEP, and then we will consider any and all options going forward,” Board of Health Chair William Heffernan said Monday, after the board emerged from an executive session.

“And that’s where we stand. The process needs to play out. It’s in the hands of the state, and we as a board will go from there,” Heffernan said.

Board members met for about 45 minutes behind closed doors with George F. Hailer, special counsel to the Town of Saugus on Environmental Affairs, and Benjamin O’Grady – another attorney from the Boston law firm of Lawson & Weitzen, LLP – to discuss possible litigation.

Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc. filed applications for two permits from the DEP late last month – one that would allow the company to modify the ash landfill near its trash-to-energy plant on Route 107 in Saugus. The company filed a second application for a permit to transport ash offsite in case the currently approved volume is used before its modification project can be approved.

A three- to six-month wait

The Board of Health’s private discussion with lawyers over Wheelabrator’s recent filings comes nine months after the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs ruled the company wouldn’t be required to have an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The agency’s Assistant Secretary, Deirdre Buckley, also advised in the 14-page certificate issued last August under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) that she didn’t believe a review by the Board of Health was necessary. She noted that a majority of comments received requested that she require Wheelabrator to “obtain a modification to the existing Site Assignment from the Board of Health to provide additional opportunity for public review and input.”

Buckley has no authority to order a review by the Saugus Board of Health, which has already requested Wheelabrator to file an application for a modification of its site assignment. The board threatened a lawsuit to force Wheelabrator to comply with its request.

“It’s out of the board’s hands until the state makes a decision,” Heffernan said Monday. “As of right now, it looks like it’s going to be an extended time period before the DEP renders its decision,” he said.

Heffernan estimated that it could take three to six months for Wheelabrator to learn whether it can proceed.

The project would add five years of life and about 520,000 tons of ash and cover soil to the ash landfill, which has been the subject of vocal opposition by town officials – including the Board of Selectmen, Town Meeting members and the Board of Health – since Wheelabrator announced its plans more than a year ago.

“For anyone out there that is interested, the website is open and the comment period is open … We encourage people to go online and comment,” Heffernan said.

The DEP web page

The public can learn about Wheelabrator’s project and offer comments by going to DEP’s special web page, http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/massdep/about/contacts/wsi.html.

The DEP will review public comments and Wheelabrator’s application in addition to testimony at a future public hearing to be held in Saugus.

Wheelabrator’s proposed “Major Modification” project involves placing some additional fill in two valleys on the landfill and is referred to as the “Valley Fill Project.” The company detailed the project in an Environmental Notification Form (ENF) published in the Environmental Monitor on June 8, 2016, and the Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs issued a certificate on the ENF pursuant to MEPA on August 5, 2016.

Wheelabrator’s application for a “Minor Permit Modification for Ash Staging and Transport” seeks approval to stage ash residue within the limits of the landfill, to enable off-site transport of ash to off-site ash management facilities.

“MassDEP has established a web page to provide electronic access to information about these two proposed projects, including a MEMO to Interested Persons regarding Public Review and Comment Opportunities and e-copies of the applications,” according to the DEP’s Mark Fairbrother. The web page already includes several documents totaling several hundred pages – many of them similar or identical to material filed in the MEPA review process last year.

Shipping ash out of Saugus

In the event that Wheelabrator reaches its capacity at the ash landfill before the project is approved, the ash would be transported to an onsite staging area and loaded into trucks to be shipped to alternative landfills, “such as Wheelabrator’s ash landfill in Shrewsbury, MA and Putnam, CT,” according to new documents filed in connection with the application to transport the ash off-site.

“The ability to transport ash off-site gives Wheelabrator the necessary flexibility to manage the disposal capacity at its ash landfills in the region and to optimize its recyclable metals recovery systems,” the documents noted.

“During some or all of the time that the Ash Staging Area is in use and off-site transport of ash is practiced, ash placement may continue to occur at the Monofill. The design features (e.g., drainage and gas venting), operations (e.g., sequencing and general operation procedures) and closure features (e.g., ridge elevation and footprint) of the Monofill will remain essentially unchanged, except as may be needed to accommodate the Ash Staging Area.”

The average daily ash production at the Wheelabrator plant is about 360 tons, and the average long-haul weight for ash residue is expected to be 28 tons per truckload, according to Wheelabrator. “This calculates out to 13 truckloads per day of ash to be hauled from Saugus to the off-site locations. This represents 26 truck trips per day added to the roadway network, including the return trip to Saugus,” the documents show.

Company officials consider the project to extend the life of the ash landfill to be “a modification” rather than an expansion, noting that the 50-foot ridgeline elevation and the footprint of the Monofill would not change. “Through this slope change and the reduced final cover thickness afforded by using the geocomposite gas venting layer, an estimated 400,000 cubic yards of capacity is available in Phases I and II with no increase to the final ridge elevation or waste footprint,” according to Wheelabrator. “At an average airspace utilization rate of 80,000 cubic yards per year, this additional capacity is estimated to provide approximately 5 years of life in addition to the currently estimated remaining site life of 0.9 to 1.1 years (as of November 2016).”

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