Selectmen approve a tentative deal with WIN Waste Innovations that would eliminate tipping fees for waste disposal in return for 20 more years of ash landfill
The Board of Selectmen this week approved a Host Community Agreement (HCA) with WIN Waste Innovations that enables the company to extend the life of the ash landfill adjacent to its trash-to-energy plant on Route 107 by two decades. But the amended HCA which selectmen supported by a slim 3-2 vote on Tuesday night (Sept. 20) includes substantial changes – including a provision that the Town of Saugus receive free tipping fees for waste disposal over the life of the agreement. The town currently pays about $900,000 in annual tipping fees to WIN Waste Innovations.
But the annual savings to the town could be considerably more if the agreement receives the required backing of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Affairs (MassDEP), the Board of Health and Town Manager Scott C. Crabtree. “My estimate is somewhere between $20-$25 million over 20 years, on the low end and $30 million on the mid to upper level,” Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini told The Saugus Advocate of the potential savings to the town as a result of the amendment he crafted.
Cicolini, who said he opposed the agreement offered by WIN Waste Innovations and recommended by the Board of Health’s Landfill Subcommittee, recommended these changes:
- Elimination of the $15 million lump sum payment to the town within 30 days of obtaining final approval to operate the landfill beyond the current Valley Fill expiration date of December 2025. Cicolini changed the lump sum to $1 million.
- The agreement will not exceed 20 years – not the 25 years in the deal offered by WIN Waste.
- Eliminating the tipping fees paid by Saugus to WIN Waste for residential waste disposal during the entire agreement, which would begin at the end of 2025 when the landfill is expected to reach its capacity.
- The removal of the provision that stipulates WIN Waste would reduce the amount it pays the town if the company is required to invest more than $5 million due to regulatory requirements or capital improvements. Under Cicolini’s amendment, the town’s benefits would not be decreased if WIN Waste is required to pay more than $5 million for major upgrades of the plant.
“I do not share the view that this vote tonight has anything to do with the support of or approval of extending the ash landfill,” Cicolini told his colleagues before offering his amendment. “I’ll say it again. If the DEP asks me my opinion, I would prefer to not see expansion of the ash landfill. I don’t know how many times I can say that and, hopefully, have it sink in to individuals, but I can tell you this has nothing to do [with HCA].”
“My vote is for my role on the Board of Selectmen as a chief policy maker and as the highest elected board in town, because it’s a host agreement that would require our approval … There has to be some kind of trust in the Board of Health and the DEP, who know a lot more about this stuff than I ever will and I care to,” he said.
While he opposes expansion of the ash landfill, Cicolini said he supported an amended agreement based on the improvements at the plant “although not the same as building a new facility.” He said he hopes MassDEP and Board of Health make sure all of the health and environmental impact concerns are addressed.
Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano and Selectman Corinne Riley voted in favor of Cicolini’s amendment. Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta and Selectman Michael Serino – both staunch opponents of any expansion of the ash landfill – voted against it.
WIN Waste “pleased” with the vote
WIN Waste Innovations offered no immediate reaction after Tuesday night’s vote but issued a brief statement on Wednesday (Sept. 21) expressing satisfaction with the vote. “We are pleased that the Board of Selectmen approved a Host Community Agreement (HCA) for continued use of the ash monofill that will deliver substantial economic, environmental and community benefits to Saugus,” said WIN Waste Innovation’s Vice President of Environment, Jim Connolly.
“As with any agreement of this kind, there are details of the HCA to finalize and we look forward to doing so in the coming days and weeks. We thank the Board of Selectmen for facilitating a substantive, comprehensive and transparent discussion and for creating a framework for a mutually beneficial public-private partnership between Saugus and WIN Waste for years to come,” Connolly said.
“We are grateful for, and humbled by the large number of Saugus residents who took the time, in both letters and attendance at Board of Selectmen and Committee meetings, to voice their support for the HCA,” he said.
Ten of the 16 speakers who testified at Tuesday night’s two-hour public hearing said they supported the HCA; six opposed it. As of Wednesday, all but one of the 35 letters submitted to the Board of Selectmen were in favor of the WIN Waste proposal.
A major obstacle to any deal would be whether MassDEP will allow extending the life of the ash landfill.
State Rep. Jessica Giannino (D-Revere), whose district includes Precincts 3 and 10 in Saugus, and State Rep. Jeffrey Turco (D-Winthrop), along with the Alliance for Health and the Environment, are hosting a meeting set for 6 p.m. Sept. 28 in the second floor auditorium of Saugus Town Hall at 298 Central St. The hosts have invited MassDEP officials to appear at the meeting to answer questions about the future of the landfill. Citizens may submit questions in advance to email@example.com.
Panetta sought to delay HCA vote
Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Panetta made a motion at the outset of the hearing to continue the hearing until after the board’s Nov. 1 regular meeting. “I never received a copy of the proposal that we are supposed to discuss tonight,” Panetta said, reading from a statement explaining why she believed the board wasn’t adequately prepared to vote on the HCA. “There isn’t even a proposal in our Selectmen packages or in our Selectmen office. We advertised a public hearing, and the proposal is not available to the public. We don’t have copies at Town Hall or the library for people to read, there are no copies in the Selectmen’s office, the proposal is not on the Town’s website, and there are no minutes posted on the Town’s website. I think we should continue this hearing until the documents are made available so that everyone can read the proposal to understand what we are discussing ahead of this meeting,” Panetta said.
“Secondly, I still believe we should wait to hear from the DEP prior to meeting. The DEP was very clear in the letter to Representative Turco that they would allow no further expansion on the landfill, especially since it is located in an area of critical environmental concern,” she said.
“Lastly, I would like to hear from Town Meeting now that we are calling a Special. I feel that this vote is extremely important for our Town, and we should have all the information before moving forward. I also would like to have a separate BOS meeting to discuss this topic after the October 24th (special) town meeting.”
The deal WIN Waste offered the town provided $18.8 million in direct payments – a lump sum payment of $15 million plus $125,000 in 25 annual payments (for total addition value of $3.8 million). However, WIN Waste said it would pay the town $10 million in a lump sum if required to invest more than $5 million due to regulatory requirements, including:
- Approximately $10 million paid at a rate of $2.50 per ton of ash disposed.
- Capital improvements made at the facility would generate additional tax revenue.
The total value of the deal, including investments made by the company in capital improvements and environmental enhancements, is about $30 million.
In addition to providing economic benefits, the HCA stipulates that WIN Waste would reduce NOx and other emissions below the current permit limits, which are already protective of public health and the environment. It offers to reduce its current NOx permit limit of 185 ppm to 175. The company said it would spend about $7.2 million over the term of the agreement to achieve the lower limit.
The company would also install a stand-alone ambient NOx monitoring station in Saugus and request that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health update its 2016 health study.
WIN Waste also offered to voluntarily reduce permitted emissions levels of lead (400 to 140 ppm), cadmium (35 to 10 ppm), dioxin (30 to 13 ppm) and particulate (25 to 20 ppm) to levels required of new waste to energy units under the federal clean air regulations.
Revere Councillor-at-Large supports agreement
Among the 10 citizens speaking in favor of the HCA was Revere Councillor-at-Large Anthony Zambuto. The councillor, who spoke in favor of the agreement at a hearing of the Saugus Landfill Committee, said it would be improper for a Revere city councillor to “dictate to” Saugus selectmen how they should vote on a Saugus issue.
“However, Revere certainly is part of the discussion because Revere’s waste is picked up curbside in Revere and brought to WIN Waste for disposal,” Zambuto said.
“And it’s disposed of in the most energy and environmentally efficient way, from waste to energy,” he said.
Zambuto said he wants to challenge the use of the words “toxic waste” to describe the wastes produced at WIN Waste’s ash landfill. “Toxic waste is a lie,” Zambuto said.
“It’s not toxic waste. … DEP, the people … I was in construction for many years – the people who made me move piles of dirt that babies could actually eat are the same people that called this ‘non-toxic ash.’ So, I’m very offended when I hear officials calling it toxic ash. Facts and science are important. And some people get up here and talk emotionally about what they think [are] the health causes and the health effects of the plant. This is fully permitted and it’s in compliance in all areas,” Zambuto said. “My biggest fear is that the nontoxic ash will have to be trucked through Revere to Shrewsbury, and that’s the equivalent of 40 trucks a day. And to my environmental friends, I say, ‘How’s that to your carbon footprint?’ The biggest problem I have with that is it’s going to probably put 30 bucks a ton on our tipping fees. And that’s going to make seniors homeless. Okay? Because they are on fixed incomes. Thirty bucks a ton is probably going to compute to 300 bucks on the tax bill.”
Precinct 8 Town Meeting Member William E. Cross III, a Saugus Fire Department captain who served on the Landfill Subcommittee, also spoke in favor of the WIN Waste deal. “I’m not going to beat a dead horse,” Cross said. “This is a vote to send it to the DEP. I think we have to trust in the DEP. If this is dangerous, if this is bad for the environment and this is leaching into the salt water, then the DEP should tell us that and this thing should shut down.
“But that being said, I don’t see that happening. After we’re gone, this is going to be here for a long time. So, I urge this board to take this vote, push it to the DEP. Let the people who are experts in this field decide whether this can move forward,” he said.
Precinct 6 Town Meeting Member William S. Brown recalled how bad things were at the landfill years ago when he was growing up. “It was awful. The smell was awful; I don’t know how the people in the surrounding neighborhoods could put up with that,” Brown said, recalling the rats and seagulls converged on the area
“But moving forward, I’d say that WIN-Wheelabrator has proven themselves to be good neighbors. And they worked hard to try to clean up their act. There isn’t much they can do with their building. It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” Brown said.
“But I think it’s time that the Town of Saugus takes a different tact on this. The past 40 years has been an adversarial relationship with Wheelabrator and WIN. I think the door is open now a little bit for us to maybe try and work together a little bit, and I would urge the board to show the leadership that this town needs and support this agreement.”
Brown said that perhaps in time, “a genius at MIT” might figure out a future use for the ash. “Tear it down; build a new one.”
Precinct 10 Town Meeting Member Peter Manoogian said he is “appalled” by the low standard selectmen are willing to accept for NOx emissions. “If the plant was torn down and built brand-new, it would be 45 parts per million,” Manoogian said.
He added, “170 (ppm) – for them to agree to that is not a win for Saugus. The health study that they’re suggesting be enhanced only looks at cancer rates. NOx is a cause of asthma, particularly in young children.”
“Their Baltimore plant – their City Council in Baltimore sued the plant and passed a regulation to have NOxemissions much lower – below 100 [ppm]. They ended up settling and they’re around 110 [ppm] now. There are plants that are 45 parts per million,” Manoogian said.
“Let me cut to the chase. What I would suggest you consider is what we did back in 1990 when everybody said we can’t get scrubbers on the plant because it’s grandfathered. Well, what had to happen is legislation had to take place that required every community to pay its fair share,” he said. “I have no problem with an incinerator that meets the lowest attainable rate, such as 45 parts per million. But 170 is wholly inadequate to protect the public health and environment. I wouldn’t celebrate this 170 as an environmental victory. It’s not. 50 [ppm] is the standard and new incinerators are at 45 [ppm].”
Manoogian suggested that Saugus consider having the current incinerator replaced. “Have a Host Community Agreement that says, ‘Okay, we want the best for Saugus.’ Tear it down; build a new one and pass the costs on to the member communities. Saugus cannot keep subsidizing the trash disposal costs with our health,” he said.
Precinct 10 Town Meeting Member Martin Costello said the town should take heed of climate change and weather conditions that threaten the future of the ash landfill. “Close this facility as soon as possible,” Costello said of the ash landfill, reading from a letter he wrote to MassDEP back in 2018.
“We’re at sea level here in Boston. It wouldn’t take much – the climate change that we’re dealing with right now – for this ash pile to suddenly become seaworthy,” he said.
WIN Waste should consider an exit plan and closure instead of expansion of the ash landfill, he said.
Jackie Mercurio, the lone member of the Landfill Subcommittee to vote against the HCA, said she would like to see “a more concrete community agreement” before selectmen vote on it.
“The site suitability is at risk for future ash,” Mercurio testified.
“I’ve asked WIN how they would propose to make the site suitable. They have no answer, “she said. “Currently, the ash landfill sits on an environmentally critical area. It cannot expand in height nor expand wider, based off of Massachusetts law. We have no answers about what the plan would look like. How can officials support all the unknowns?”
Mercurio questioned why there was no proposal being considered to bring the incinerator to current standards.