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  TOWN ELECTION 2021: Board of Selectmen and School Committee candidates discuss whether they would support or oppose any agreement to allow vertical expansion of the ash landfill at the Win Waste Innovations (formerly Wheelabrator) trash-to energy plant site in return for a cash payment that could fund various municipal projects.

  Editor’s Note: Four days from today, Saugus voters will go to the polls for the town’s biennial election. The five seats on both the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee will be the featured town-wide races on the Nov. 2 ballot, which will also include a seat on the Housing Authority and 50 Town Meeting seats – five members to be selected in each of the 10 precincts. Continuing in this week’s issue, the final edition of The Saugus Advocate published before the town election, and for the past six weeks, we have dedicated this space to questions to the 10 candidates running for the Board of Selectmen and the seven candidates competing for the five School Committee positions. With the lack of candidates’ forums during the 2021 Town Election campaign, we decided to reach out to the candidates aspiring to two-year terms on the town’s two most prominent elected bodies and give them an opportunity to define the essence of their campaigns and what sets them apart from their political opponents.

For the Board of Selectmen

  Q: The Town of Saugus and Win Waste Innovations (formerly Wheelabrator) have been involved in talks during the past year on a number of issues affecting the future of the trash-to-energy plant on Route 107 in Saugus and money the town should be receiving as a host community. As an elected official and citizen of Saugus, would you support or oppose any agreement that would allow for vertical expansion of the ash landfill at the plant site in return for a cash payment that could be used to fund various municipal projects – like a new fire station – or to minimize the increased costs of municipal government and local education? Please answer in 100 words or less.

The incumbents:

  Selectman Jeffrey V. Cicolini: I will always put the health and well being of our residents ahead of any financial gain to the town. There is much that can be done to make the incinerator safer and more compliant with today’s air quality safety standards. My family has roots in east Saugus dating back 4 generations and I myself lived there for over 2. I would want to know what additional safety measures will be taken if there was an expansion. I hear there is consideration of lining the ash pile, I am not sure how that would work. Adding ash to the existing pile with no additional safety measures taken would not be good for Saugus. Public health does not have a price tag.

  Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony W. Cogliano Sr.: Saugus is not for sale!! I am proud of the work I have done on the Board of Selectmen to engage Wheelabrator and to hold them accountable for their operations in our town. The fact is that for too long Saugus has refused to even talk with Wheelabrator. That has changed on my watch. I support the idea of a host community agreement, but a dollar figure or west side fire station is only one aspect of that. Ensuring Wheelabrator operates in a way that protects our public health and preserves our environment will always be my priority. I believe we will be able to come to an agreement between the town and Wheelabrator that accomplishes this, and enhances the quality of life for all our residents.

  Selectman Debra C. Panetta: The health, wellbeing, and safety of the Saugus community is my number one priority. Of course, I support a West Side Fire Station. However, before considering a new agreement, a true health assessment and site assignment should be conducted. Win Waste Innovations-Saugus is the oldest incinerator in the country, burning up to 1,500 tons of trash a day, and its antiquated equipment cannot meet current emission standards and is subject to constant breakdowns, noise, and fire incidents.

  The unlined ash landfill is located in a wetland, but more importantly, is located less than 1/2 mile from Saugus neighborhoods. This is the only active unlined ash landfill still operating in Massachusetts and would not be allowed today. The state recently passed Environmental Justice legislation that could make these expansion conversations moot, so before we negotiate, we need to open-up conversations with the state.

  It is easy to say, ‘let’s take the money,’ but what does that mean for our residents? Let’s not forget the odor, noise, and air quality issues surrounding this facility. We don’t want the highest structure in Saugus to be an ash landfill. Let’s fix what’s broken first before considering expansion.

  Board of Selectmen Vice-Chair Corinne Riley: In responses to prior week’s questions, I’ve stated that public safety is our most urgent challenge, and I stand by that.

  I live just under a mile from the ash pile, closer than the vast majority of Saugus. Of course I don’t want it to expand in any way.

  However, ash pile expansion must not be considered in a vacuum, but along with related issues like reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions, other potential safety or environmental improvements, and the fact that capping the ash pile will result in long term daily trucking of ash on our roads, which is a health and environmental hazard by itself. I would not support ashpile expansion solely for financial considerations but would consider it carefully if meaningful improvements like those above were part of an agreement.

  Selectman Michael J. Serino: I have no detailed knowledge of any host agreement. However, Wheelabrator has publicly stated their desire to increase their landfill another 50 feet above the existing 50 foot high unlined landfill. Consequently, 50 additional feet means 50 more years of toxic ash dumping. Once the landfill closes Wheelabrator could walk away after 30 years, resulting in the State (taxpayers) being responsible for the 100 foot high landfill upkeep.

  Wheelabrator’s facility cannot meet emission standards. However, they are allowed to buy credits from clean burning facilities in Massachusetts, resulting in continued pollution in Saugus. Is it fair/moral to provide more safety/benefits in one area of our community at the expense of another? I am opposed to a vertical landfill expansion.

The challengers

  Leo M. Fonseca, Jr.: I believe that the health and wellness of our town residents and neighboring communities needs to remain front and center in any discussion regarding this issue. That said, I believe that as elected officials the goal of the BOS should be to work with WIN for the betterment of the town. If, and only if, they are able to operate in a way that minimizes a negative impact on our environment, our public health and our community, while assisting in moving the town forward by contributing financially to a fire station or other enhancements, I think we should at least have a discussion. I am a believer in never being the smartest person in the room, and I would work collaboratively with experts in this field to come up with the resolution that best serves our community.

  Elizabeth Marchese, a former School Committee member: As stated during the SAVE candidates forum, I do not support a vertical extension of the ash landfill at the Win Waste Innovations Saugus location. Now, if I read between the lines of this question my answer is very simple…I will never accept monies in exchange for any S-2 permits or permits of any kind as that would constitute a breach of every tenet, both legally and morally, I would be elected to uphold. Thank you for the opportunity to express my views on this very important matter.

  Darren R. McCullough.: The Rumney Marsh is an area of critical environmental concern. Most residents probably feel the landfill needs to be capped. The health and well being of the constituents of Saugus and the environmental impact should come first. If increasing the landfill is a must for productive collaboration, then the answer is no. However, if the Commonwealth of Massachusetts continues giving provisional permits to dump tons of toxic ash, the Town of Saugus needs to be compensated. The landfill was supposed to be closed 25 years ago but continues to incinerate and dump ash into an unlined state protected marshland.

  Domenic Montano, a former Board of Selectmen candidate: Let me make this abundantly clear – Saugus is not for sale. While I am very much happy to see that communication is finally happening between the Town and Win Waste Innovations – we cannot “sell” ourselves for money. The residents of this town come first. We must find new ways to fund municipal projects, but expanding the ash landfill is not the answer. The fire station, that’s been funded – the better question is – why isn’t it built yet? We talk about it every election cycle and yet, no fire station, no traffic enforcement unit. We need to be asking why. We must work together to achieve the goal that we desire without selling ourselves or hurting a portion of our residents to benefit us all.

  Harry Young: This shouldn’t be a question. The town is not in the business of bartering for permits. If this becomes the norm then anyone who wants to offer the town something of value in exchange for a permit can essentially buy their way into town. This is morally and ethically wrong in my opinion. While I do feel the town should financially benefit from a host community agreement, I do not feel we should have to allow expansion to get it. I would oppose this type of agreement with anyone seeking a permit in town including Win Waste Innovations. Thank you.

For the School Committee

  Q: The Town of Saugus and Win Waste Innovations (formerly Wheelabrator) have been involved in talks during the past year on a number of issues affecting the future of the trash-to-energy plant on Route 107 in Saugus and money the town should be receiving as a host community. As an elected official and citizen of Saugus, would you support or oppose any agreement that would allow for vertical expansion of the ash landfill at the plant site in return for a cash payment that could be used to fund various municipal projects – like a new fire station – or to minimize the increased costs of municipal government and local education? Please answer in 100 words or less.

The incumbents:

  School Committee Vice-Chair Ryan P. Fisher: I grew up visiting my grandmother at the Point of Pines, and remember all the complaints of houses covered in ash and soot. We’re an environmentally conscious family, and I certainly have concerns about an unlined landfill, past its planned lifespan, sitting next to a marsh. My focus on the School Committee is to make sure student achievement skyrockets, and that our kids have everything they need. I won’t make campaign promises that don’t have anything to do with the office I’m seeking. Our town has needs, specifically a West Side fire station, and the selectmen must weigh these needs against the health and environmental costs and make a wise decision. I wish them well.

  School Committee Member Joseph “Dennis” Gould: I have been a resident in Precinct 10 for 49 years and have monitored the many improvements made over the years at WIN.

  I am hopeful that the collaboration being shown with new Committee Selectmen Cogliano started and Health Department involvement, will lead to a safe go forward plan we all can support.

  If going up in height can be done safely, and supported by this committee, it may be an alternative.

  Whether they continue to dump on site, or are forced to bring ashes elsewhere, I haven’t seen any data that it will shut down operation of their burners.

  Summary

  I look forward to the committee recommendations and best go forward plan for Saugus.

  School Committee Member Arthur Grabowski: I’m going to pass on your last question … thanks for the opportunity.

  School Committee Member John S. Hatch: Once again, I want to thank you and the Advocate for giving all candidate this forum to share their platform and views.

  Your last question is a very controversial one in many circles. I for one am no expert, but I certainly empathize with the folks in East Saugus and Revere. I know the challenges that Win Waste, and their operation causes our town, and especially its abutting neighbors.

  As I have been saying for most issues facing the schools, one of the biggest keys is communication. I don’t think Win Waste is going anywhere, any time soon. Therefore, I applaud Chairman Cogliano of the selectman for creating a committee to open dialog with Win Waste so the town can work with them if they must be here, but more importantly enforce regulations, and hold them accountable, to operate in the safest, and most responsible way for us the host community.

  School Committee Chair Thomas R. Whittredge: My only comment about Win Waste Innovations is this. If they are not going anywhere we may as well maximize the Financial return to the Town.

The challengers

  Leigh Gerow: As a citizen, I have concerns with Win Waste Innovations vertical expansion of the ash landfill. However, as a member of the School Committee I defer to the Board of Selectmen on this matter. I would always be open to a donation of any kind however, if Win Waste was to be so generous. There is a chain of command on issues such as these and I respect the individuals who would ultimately make these decisions to be able to discuss them without my opinion muddying the conversation.

  Former School Committee Member Vincent Serino: I grew up in that part of town, and I haven’t met many people in Saugus who are for expansion.

  With that said, Saugus and its neighbors for years have tried to limit the environmental impact Win Waste has had on our community and we have not been very successful. As an elected official and citizen of Saugus, I would not like to see any expansion. We have been down this road before and know what our options are and what we can expect. We need to negotiate the best deal for Saugus and demand more environmental studies paid for by Win Waste, but the teams and researchers picked by Saugus. Keeping our community and people safe and informed is one of the most important things an elected official can do.

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SAUGUS TOWN HALL: Five challengers will be running against the five incumbent members of the Board of Selectmen in the Nov. 2 Town Election, making it the most competitive race on the ballot (Saugus Advocate file photo by Mark E. Vogler)
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SAUGUS PUBLIC SCHOOLS ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES: All five School Committee members are running for another two-year term in the Nov. 2 Town Election. But two other candidates are running for a spot on the committee. (Saugus Advocate file photo by Mark E. Vogler)

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