DEP Commissioner says his agency won’t allow future expansion at Saugus site
State Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) Commissioner Martin Suuberg says WIN Waste Innovations won’t be able to expand the ash landfill near its trash-to-energy incinerator in Saugus under current regulations. In a letter this week to state Rep. Jeffrey Turco (D-Winthrop), Commissioner Suuberg noted that his agency’s opposition to future expansion of the landfill is based on its location within an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).
“While an applicant is free to propose a site assignment modification, and MassDEP will review the information submitted, based upon the information presently before MassDEP, the facility fails to meet the necessary site suitability criteria to allow for expansion within the ACEC and therefore would not receive a positive site suitability determination,” Suuberg wrote Turco in a letter dated Nov. 16.
“Without a positive site suitability determination from MassDEP, a proposal to amend the facility’s site assignment to allow for vertical expansion would not advance to the Saugus Board of Health for consideration,” the commissioner said.
WIN Waste Innovations Vice President of Environmental Affairs James Connolly issued a brief statement when contacted yesterday. “The DEP’s letter concerns procedural steps that any proposal involving expansion would need to follow, including a lengthy review by both the town and state,” Connolly said.
“We have no such proposal and are currently focused on working with the landfill committee to explore ways in which we can continue providing environmental and economic benefits to the town,” he said.
Suuberg stressed that his letter as requested by Turco “represents MassDEP’s position on any potential future expansion of the ash landfill.”
MassDEP issued a solid waste major modification permit to WIN Waste Innovations (formerly Wheelabrator Saugus) on April 9, 2018, which allowed additional disposal capacity while keeping the peak elevation of the landfill at 50 feet above mean sea level.
Connolly said earlier this year that the ash landfill has the capacity to last through the end of 2024 and that the company is interested in future expansion.
“Obviously, we’d like to continue to use the site,” WIN Waste Innovations’ James Connolly told members of the Saugus Board of Health’s Wheelabrator Subcommittee. “It’s convenient and adjacent to the plant,” he said. Connolly also said the company has some concerns about the long-term environmental effects of trucking the ash offsite and the rising fuel costs connected with that should the ash landfill be closed permanently after 2024.
But Rep. Turco – whose 19th Suffolk House District includes part of Revere – said he now believes the landfill’s future days are now numbered. “Environmental Justice means nothing to the people of the North Shore so long as the Wheelabrator Saugus Ash Landfill continues to operate in an ACEC,” Turco said in a statement this week.
“Commissioner Suuberg’s letter makes clear that the long overdue closure of the Saugus Ash Landfill is on the horizon,” he said.
State Rep. Jessica Giannino (D-Revere), whose district includes Precincts 3 and 10 in Saugus, said the Suuberg letter is welcome news. “I am so excited for this important step forward for Environmental Justice in the Town of Saugus and City of Revere,” Giannino said.
“We have been waiting my whole lifetime for this progress,” she said.
Stephanie Shalkoski, co-president of Saugus Action Volunteers for the Environment (SAVE), said her group was pleased with MassDEP Commissioner Suuberg’s letter. “DEP clearly shares our long-standing concern that any plans to increase the height of the ash landfill will endanger the Rumney Marsh ACEC,” Shalkoski said.
Attorney Kirstie Pecci, director of the Conservation Law Foundation’s Zero Waste Project, declared that “State officials would be absolutely right to deny the expansion of this already massive, polluting landfill.”
“No new landfills or expansions of landfills are allowed in an Area of Critical Environmental Concern,” Pecci said. “The Saugus Ash Landfill is in the middle of one of these areas, so it is not allowed to expand vertically. End of story.”
Commissioner Suuberg mentioned in his letter that during conversations with the Wheelabrator plant operators and community members in 2018, “MassDEP was clear that additional vertical expansion was beyond the limits of the site assignment.”
“Any future proposals for expansion would require a modification to the facility’s site assignment and approval from MassDEP and the Saugus Board of Health,” Suuberg wrote.
“As the landfill is located within an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC), an expansion of the landfill (including vertical expansion) would need to meet the site suitability criteria in the Regulations with respect to the site assignment,” the commissioner said.
But Suuberg added that it “fails to meet the necessary site suitability criteria to allow for expansion within the ACEC.”
Precinct 10 Town Meeting Member Peter Manoogian called Commissioner Suuberg’s letter “an early Christmas present for the residents of East Saugus and Revere.”
“I would hope that the WIN or Wheelabrator subcommittee would now shift away from making a ‘more ash for cash’ deal and work towards making the incinerator meet the highest and best emission standards,” Manoogian said.
“To continue to pursue an ‘ash for cash’ deal is now nothing more than a fool’s errand that is contradictory towards what is best for the public health and the environment as confirmed by Commissioner Suuberg. I would further encourage WIN to take advantage of the zoning overlay provided by Saugus Town Meeting that would allow them to develop a solar farm on the soon to be closed ash landfill,” he said.