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Is this deal worth expanding the ash landfill?

Board of Selectman Chair Anthony Cogliano

Four selectmen prepared written speeches to explain their vote on the WIN Waste Innovations Host Community Agreement

Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano

  Thank you for coming tonight.

  For those who attended or watched the Committee [Landfill Subcommittee] meetings, I hope you will agree that the work has been very productive. WIN Waste Innovations made a presentation based on what committee members said they wanted to see in a Host Community Agreement.

  We had the opportunity to ask questions, and so did the public, at our last meeting. The committee then voted to move WIN’s proposal to the Board of Selectmen, which is why we are here tonight.

  The goal of a Host Community Agreement is for the Town to get the greatest benefit possible from WIN Waste’s presence here and build a public-private partnership for the long term. WIN Waste has similar agreements in other communities where they have mutually beneficial relationships. Unfortunately, Saugus doesn’t have one yet. That needs to change.

  It’s a simple fact that the waste-to-energy facility will continue to operate for many years. Our options are simple. We can continue wasting money on losing lawsuits. Or we can continue the positive dialogue we have started with WIN Waste and make the best deal possible for the town, while ensuring the health and safety of our residents.

  I will repeat what I said at the last two Committee meetings. I am out in the community every day and the vast majority of people I speak with want us to make the best deal possible for the Town. As elected officials, we have the same obligation – to do what’s best for our constituents.

  There will be an opportunity for the public to speak tonight. Because we want to give everyone a chance, please keep your remarks to three minutes maximum, regardless of how you feel about the issue. We encourage comments, not speeches.

  If you have questions for WIN Waste about the proposal, please direct them to the chair and WIN will have the opportunity to answer.

  I know there has been a lot of discussion about a meeting the DEP is attending in Saugus next week and I’m not sure there will be additional discussion about that meeting. I would like to clear up an item: Rep Wong and I spoke to the [DEP] Commissioner after he issued a letter back in January. I informed him of the work that was being done by the Committee and that we felt it important that we be allowed to complete that work. He assured me that there was no proposal before the DEP at that time and that, if and when they do receive one, they would keep an open mind and judge it based on the merits. Nothing has changed.

Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta

  As we know, the landfill is located in an Area of Critical Concern (ACEC), where the Rumney Marshes ACEC has been characterized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as “one of the most biologically significant estuaries in Massachusetts north of Boston.” The area includes approximately 1000 acres of highly productive saltmarsh, tidal flats, and shallow subtidal Channels. The WIN Waste / Wheelabrator / RESCO landfill was supposed to be closed in 1996 and topped with a grassy seed. Due to a consent order (that was amended 11 times), WIN Waste found ways to continue operations past their due date. WIN Waste has been closing in the slopes, which are the fingers, which were created for water monitoring and storm water run-off. They uncapped a previously capped portion of their landfill, 39 acres, in Valleys 1 and 2. Now we hear that the landfill will be at capacity in 2025 (where there are no more slopes to fill in). It important to mention that several of us on this Board stated that we wanted the landfill closed in 2025.

  This Board of Selectmen voted on a policy approximately three years ago regarding waste to energy, ash disposal, and solid waste facilities within the Town of Saugus.

  The policy reads, “We hereby declare that it shall be the policy of the Town of Saugus to encourage and support that which will result in a net decrease in air emissions and ash disposal. We are therefore opposed to any additional forms of combustion of solid waste that will yield additional air and ash emissions.” Saugus Town Meeting also voted on a similar resolution. Tonight’s meeting is about the landfill and real issues about how it impacts our community and residents. It’s not about whether WIN Waste gave money to a school or a park. It’s not about trustworthiness, shaping public opinion and building public perception. It’s about the safety and health of our community. It’s about whether this community, our community where we live, will be afforded the same rights and protections that the people of Millbury, Shrewsbury, Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Putnam, Connecticut.

  Let’s not forget that the landfill is located in a flood zone. Regarding the proposal: WIN Waste wants 25 more years, so it would close in 2050. When asked how many feet 25 years means, the WIN Waste representatives didn’t know. Since they will need to tier and slope, perhaps it will stand an additional 50 feet or more. Do we want the highest structure in Saugus to be an ash landfill, potentially at 100 feet or more?

  Wouldn’t knowing the height of this proposed landfill be an important thing to know prior to us taking a vote? The Town of Saugus got the purple air monitors in January. Have they been installed? Do we have data to review? How do we consider a 25-year extension without proper air quality monitoring?

  Our focus this evening is on the unlined ash landfill, and when I say unlined, I mean that it doesn’t meet today’s standards. Today’s standards would require a double-liner. Remember, this is the oldest incinerator in the nation.

  However, it’s important to discuss the emissions as well. This is important because the better filtration, the more toxins go into the ash. The pollution doesn’t go away. That’s why most communities aren’t burdened with both an incinerator and an ash landfill.

  If you read the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency document, it clearly states that municipal waste combustors emit various pollutants into the air, including metal emissions (e.g., cadmium, lead, mercury), acid gas emissions (sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and nitrogen oxides), and organic emissions (dioxin/furan and carbon monoxide).

  The health impacts from these pollutants cause significant adverse health and environmental effects. For example, lead and mercury negatively affect the central nervous system, and long-term exposure can impair brain function and development. Dioxin/furans can result in cancer in humans. Acid gasses contribute to the acid rain that damages lakes and harms forests and buildings.

  Everything you find in the air is also in the ash. So when there is a spill and HAZMAT comes down to WIN Waste with their special suits, the ash tests Toxic.

  WIN Waste’s nitrogen oxide levels are supposed to be at 150 PPM. They are currently at 185 PPM, and they buy emission credits to satisfy this requirement. That doesn’t help Saugus residents. Even with the improvements they discussed tonight, we just heard that the best they can do is 175 PPM which means they still will need to purchase emission credits.

  That isn’t satisfactory to me.

  We deserve to breathe clean air too. Breathing high levels of nitrogen oxides can cause rapid burning, spasms, and swelling of tissues in the throat and upper respiratory tract, reduced oxygenation of body tissues, a build- up of fluid in your lungs, and death.

  In Lynn, they have a machine by their water department that measures NOx levels. We have nothing like that in Saugus. The City of Revere has six air quality monitors. There are two at Gibson Park (a park close to the WIN Waste facility) which show that air pollution is way over the normal limits. WIN Waste does have a permit to truck ash out of Saugus without using Saugus roads. This would not impact the neighborhoods and should be further discussed.

WIN Waste should also look into other uses for the landfill, including a solar farm.

  There has been no discussion of a closure committee. There has been no talk on remediation – what will happen when the landfill closes. I attended all the WIN Waste / Landfill Committee meetings, and I didn’t hear anybody question the need for 25 years.

  The monetary benefit they propose has a big caveat. WIN Waste will pay Saugus $10 Million (instead of $18.8 Million) if required to invest more than $5 Million due to regulatory requirements.

  This is about the quality of life for the people that live in Saugus, Revere, and Lynn … especially for residents living in Precincts 10 and 3. Haven’t these residents taken on enough of this burden?

  This should not be a payoff to entice the Town of Saugus to continue to pollute. There is a heavy cost for allowing and supporting this expansion. This is not ‘free’ money or ‘found’ money. It’s money that attempts to mitigate the health and well-being of Saugus residents and our surrounding communities. And as we heard at the Landfill committee meeting, this has a negative impact on our property values.

  The vote tonight is either that you are for a 25-year expansion (with no engineering report, no surveys, no expert opinions), or you are against an expansion. We are the policy makers in the Town, so if this Board does vote in favor of this tonight, then we should also revoke the policy we have in place regarding air & ash emissions. Remember: The ash is either going into one of three places: 1/ air emissions, 2/ captured in the ash and blown around, or 3/ with no liner – getting into the water system & environment including our food chain.

  I do hope when the DEP comes to Town Hall on September 28th that they can end this debate. I certainly don’t want to take a vote tonight, and then somebody attends the DEP meeting stating that, “YES, the Board of Selectmen are in favor of an expansion.”

  I feel that this Board does not have adequate information to take a vote this evening. The health and well-being of our Saugus residents is, and always will be my top priority.

Selectman Corinne Riley

  Having served on the WIN Subcommittee, I firstly want to thank those who worked so hard to get where we are. An open mind is to hear all sides.

  The current approach where Saugus bears the burden on an incinerator, but reaps no benefits other than tax dollars, hasn’t worked for decades.

  As part of my due diligence on WIN, I had the opportunity to visit the WIN Waste facility in Shrewsbury, with their Town Manager and state representative. I got to see the operation, which was interesting, but my biggest takeaway, as it relates to the current situation in Saugus, was the longstanding, positive partnership that exists between Shrewsbury and WIN, which includes a Host Community Agreement. With a more cooperative approach lately, we’ve already realized a better relationship than we’ve had in many years.

  As I see it, we’ve got two options:

  1. We can keep the same approach that has been in place for decades. We can continue to fight and lose on the taxpayer’s dime, over and over and over again. We can go back to the days of having an adversarial relationship with WIN. We can forget the agreement, and we can forgo improved air quality that so many residents told the DEP was so important, and just keep the status quo.

  2. Or, we can enjoy the improved relationship with WIN that has been noted many times by the Board of Health, we can continue to work on a potential agreement, so that if MassDEP extends the life of the ash pile, as they’ve done many times, we’ll be in position to realize improved NOx monitoring, independent monitoring of the facility, and significant financial benefit.

  To me, the better choice is clear. I’m ready to try a new approach, and that is why I am ready to vote YES on moving this agreement forward.

Selectman Michael Serino

  25 MORE YEARS OF TOXIC ASH IS NOT THE ANSWER

  Over the past several months, I had the opportunity to attend all meetings regarding the [WIN Waste] operation and their proposal to expand their landfill.

  Expansion of the toxic ash landfill is important to their operation. However, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (D.E.P.) would first have to approve any expansion of their landfill. If approved by the D.E.P., it would then need to receive site assignment approval from the Saugus Board of Health. Please keep in mind that the Saugus Board of Selectmen and/or any committee, do not have any legal authority to allow for an expansion of the landfill or negotiate any agreements.

  However, as stated in our Town Charter, the Board of Selectmen are the chief policy makers of the Town. Therefore, I feel it is important that we share our views regarding the [WIN Waste] operation and their request to ask for a landfill expansion.

  As some background information, the [WIN] property located on Rt 107 currently hosts a trash burning facility and an ash landfill. This landfill started out as an unlined landfill back in the 1950’s. It was known as the DeMatteo Dump. In 1975 a trash burning plant was permitted to operate. Consequently, ash from the plant has been dumped throughout the entire (248 acre) landfill site for the past (40+) years. When dealing with issues at the facility, I have always tried to look at the trash burning plant and the ash landfill as two separate issues.

  In regards to the trash burning plant, what we do know is that nitrogen oxide emission levels, emitting from the smokestack of the facility, does not meet Mass-D.E.P. requirements of 150 ppm (particles per million).

  On June 2, 2019 (WIN-Wheelabrator) submitted an emission control plan application to Mass-D.E.P. On February 11, 2020, Mass-D.E.P. approved a final emission control plan for the facility. In regards to the elevated nitrogen oxide emission levels at the trash burning facility, the final emission control plan allows WIN-Wheelabrator to choose from three (3) emission strategies to deal with the issue.

  The first is the SCR – Selective Catalytic Reduction Strategy. This is a pollution control device that would achieve Mass-D.E.P.’s requirement of 150 ppm (particles per million). The cost estimate is eighteen (18) million dollars. As noted in the final emission control plan, because of the eighteen (18) million-dollar cost to install and operate the SCR system, WIN-Wheelabrator did request a higher nitrogen oxide emission level of 185 ppm (particle per million). This is the plant’s current nitrogen oxide emission out-put level. Mass-D.E.P. did refuse to change and lower their state-wide requirement of 150 ppm (particles per million). However, D.E.P. did allow two (2) other strategies to be used.

  The second strategy is the SNCR – Selective Non-Catalytic Reduction Strategy. This strategy sprays an ammonia solution into the boiler/furnace. The intent of this strategy is to try to determine if an achievable nitrogen oxide limit below WIN’s current emission level of 185 ppm (particles per million) can be established. To date it is unclear as to the effectiveness of this strategy.

  The third and final option is the ERC – Emission Reduction Credit Strategy. This strategy allows WIN to purchase Emission Reduction Credits from clean burning facilities, in and out of Massachusetts. To date it is my understanding that WIN has purchased emission reduction credits from other cleaning burning facilities.

  In my final comments regarding the trash burning plant. We need to keep in mind that the plant is nearing 50 years old, the oldest in the nation. The facility is so outdated that their boiler system cannot be retro-fitted and some replacement parts have to be specially fabricated.

  In regards to the ash landfill. As I had mentioned in my opening statement, the landfill started out as an unlined landfill in the 1950’s. Today this landfill remains the State’s only unlined landfill that is still in operation today. Toxic fly ash from the trash burning facility is spread throughout the entire 248-acre landfill site. The ash contains high levels of Mercury, Lead and Arsenic. The Landfill abuts the Saugus River and Rumney Marsh and is located in an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The landfill was never meant to be a forever solution and under Mass-D.E.P.’s Consent Order was scheduled to close in December of 1996.

  We must also keep in mind that State law does require WIN to be responsible for the maintenance of the landfill for only thirty (30) years after its closure. However, it could be sooner if WIN goes out of business. Consequently, the State or in essence, Massachusetts Taxpayers would end up being responsible for the up-keep of the toxic ash landfill.

  In a November 16, 2021 letter from Mass-D.E.P., commissioner Martin Suuberg wrote that Mass-D.E.P. has determined that additional ash over the (50-foot) maximum height or expanding the landfill’s footprint would not be allowed, since it is located in an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). While the applicant (WIN) is free to propose a site assignment modification, the facility fails to meet the necessary site suitability criteria to allow for an expansion within the (ACEC) area. Therefore, the applicant would not receive a positive site suitability determination. Consequently, WIN’s application would not advance to the Saugus Board of Health.

  I honestly believe we can do better. I believe it is time to close the landfill operation and work with WIN to look at opportunities to develop the landfill, which would provide a long-term (forever) economic benefit to Saugus, well beyond the twenty-five (25) year proposal.

  In 2003 WIN-Wheelabrator submitted plans to our planning board to subdivide their 248 acre landfill into twelve (12) commercial lots. Again in 2017 WIN-Wheelabrator submitted plans to our planning board to subdivide their 248 acre landfill into ten (10) commercial lots. Hayes Engineering represented Wheelabrator. At that time Hayes’s representative stated several potential uses for the property, which included an industrial park and a solar farm.

  A few years ago, the Town of Saugus installed a 4 acre solar farm on the old DPW landfill. The Town Manager negotiated a tax agreement of $20,000.00 per year. A solar farm at WIN’s 248 acre landfill could potentially generate $1,200,000.00 per year.

  Consequently, over twenty-five (25) years, Saugus could receive an economic benefit of thirty one (31) million dollars. Moreover, the Town would (forever) receive property tax revenue from the development of the landfill.

  In Conclusion, I honestly believe that we should work with WIN to explore potential development opportunities which would provide a greater long-term (forever) economic benefit to both WIN and the Town, while at the same time not harming our public and environmental health.

  Continuing to dump toxic ash in an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, for another 25 years is not in the best interest of our public and environmental health.

Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini

  (Selectman Cicolini did not read from a prepared speech but requested to make a summary comment early in the meeting on how he regarded the vote.)

  Us as the Board of Selectmen is only to this host agreement. We are not voting to expand an ash landfill. I’m sure if you poll every person up here if they wanted to expand the ash pile, my answer would be ‘no.’

  However, we know that reality has proven over the years that WIN is here to stay and that incinerator is here to stay. So, the paramount problem in our town has been public health and public safety – trying to make sure that we can do everything in our power and have WIN do everything in its power – to make sure that what is emitted out of that stack is as minimal risk to the public as possible.

  So, in my mindset – in business – looking at this, I broke it into two parts. I got into the public health component, which in my opinion, as someone who lived down in East Saugus for 20 years, that to me is the most important. What can they do to improve any potential impact on public health? The second piece of it is economics. And looking at the economics of the deal – of what they’re willing to offer to our town for economic benefit in order to try to defray some of the environmental impact and economic impact we’ve felt by having this facility in town.

  So, I just want to be clear, and many people have reached out to me, asking about if this is an approval why are we waiting for the DEP meeting. In my opinion, this agreement tonight, whether it’s me who makes the motion or somebody else, I will only support this with the contingency that it’s binding based on DEP and the Board of Health’s decision. If they vote no to expand this ash landfill, then you can throw this deal out the window. Us voting tonight does not show that we’re for expanding the ash landfill. What we’re saying is “If the DEP does its job, and they decide that it’s allowable to expand that ash landfill, then these are the parameters we’ll take in order for us to accept that and not put-up further resistance.” DEP is the deciding body. The Board of Health is the deciding body. It’s not the Board of Selectmen. The Charter is very clear. Our roles and responsibilities are very clear. We’re here to vote on a host agreement should a host agreement come into play. If the DEP votes ‘no,’ it’s a non-factor.

  We’ve fought this fight for many years and have been on the losing end way too long. And for once, I want to see improvements in public health. I want to see capital investments be made. And I want to see the town get some more economic benefit other than what we have for an agreement that was negotiated by a town manager 25 to 35 years ago.

  That’s where I’m coming from with this. There are people who are going to like it. There’s going to be people who don’t. I was elected to this board in 2015 knowing that I would vote with my heart, what my gut feels is best for Saugus. And that’s what I’m doing.

Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta
Debra Panetta
Board of Selectmen Vice Chair
Selectman Michael Serino
Michael Serino
Selectman
Selectman Jeffrey Cicolini
Jeffrey Cicolini
Selectman
Selectman Corinne Riley
Corinne Riley
Selectman

(Saugus Advocate photos by Mark E. Vogler)

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