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Capping Plan Is Attempt to Create New Landfill Operation

If anything actually needs to be done at this time, then a better plan must be developed to minimize the cost to the communities involved, the risk to the public and the harm to the environment.

The following letter regarding the Attleboro Landfill capping project was addressed to Mark Dakers, bureau chief of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's Southeast Region, and Kurt Schulte, president of EndCap Technology:

Please be advised that this is my personal comment letter based upon my own knowledge, experience and opinion, and does not reflect or represent the views or positions of any of my clients.

I am a lifelong resident of Attleboro's Ward 4, having grown up at the corner of 959 Pleasant St. and Pike Avenue, and now residing at 172 Pike Ave., midway between Pleasant Street and the bridge over the secondary railroad line. Consequently, I am very familiar with the Attleboro Landfill, formerly known as the Attleboro City Dump, which is also located in Ward 4. 

1.  ENVIRONMENTAL

I understand that a closed and unlined landfill should be capped in an effort to prevent any contaminates and hazardous materials from leaching into the groundwater. We know that Phase A of the Attleboro Landfill, which fronts on Peckham Street, has been closed and capped for some time, but also was never lined because it was apparently not required when either the dump or the landfill was established. However, while the capping process is a preventive measure, it is not totally impermeable for an indefinite period of time.

There is concern now that Phase A is leaching something that may constitute contaminates and hazardous materials into the adjacent Shpack Superfund Site, the cleanup of which has consumed more than $70 million of federal funds so far and is not yet complete.

It has been represented that the monitoring of Phase B of the Attleboro Landfill, which abuts Phase A, has "tested nicely," without revealing anything that is presently a threat to public health, safety and welfare. To me, that means that while the findings may be above the reportable limits, there is no requirement for remediation at this time. Therefore, Mass DEP has not found it necessary to take any on-site action to cap that portion of the landfill because Attleboro Landfill Inc. (ALI) has failed to take any such action and apparently is not is compliance with the applicable state regulations. 

However, we must remember that Phase A was an active bury-and-decompose landfill for the disposal of solid waste from the mid 1970s to the mid 1990s, having previously been a burn-and-bury dump for the disposal of solid waste. The process of biodegration is ongoing and continues to produce methane gas that powers the two generators located at Peckham Street that produce electricity that is sold to National Grid.  While Phase A is closed and capped, it is definitely still quite active below the surface of the ground.

Conversely, Phase B was never actively used as a bury-and-decompose landfill for the disposal of solid waste. It was, however, part of the original burn-and-bury dump for the disposal of solid waste. This, the drastic difference in grade elevation, with Phase A being represented to be approximately 65 feet higher than Phase B.

While the Phase B dump operated from the 1940s, it was closed in the 1970s and has been inactive ever since. As a practical matter it would seem that it should be left in its present condition, which I am sure that Mother Nature has significantly reclaimed, but should continue to be monitored to be certain that nothing has changed for the worse. To disturb Phase B now with a lot of excavation could activate that which is long dormant and thereby cause more problems than it will solve. 

Presumably, the worst of the contaminants and hazardous materials in Phase B were consumed by fire and went up in smoke. What remains now should be the resulting ash and non-combustibles, which ought to be mostly benign materials. As stated previously, the capping of an unlined landfill is not a guarantee that contaminates and hazardous materials will not leach into the groundwater, and it will not last indefinitely anyway.

Actually, this proposal to cap Phase B, which is approximately eight to 10 acres of land, with 650,000 cubic yards of slightly contaminated soils and debris, that could equate to more than 1 million tons of material, depending upon its composition, is really a proposal to create a new landfill operation. Prior information has estimated that a fraction of that volume, maybe 30,000 to 60,000 cubic yards, is all that would be required for the actual capping. While the dramatically excessive amount of material could be necessary to generate the funds required for the actual capping and ongoing monitoring, it has been estimated that it would also generate millions of dollars in surplus profits for ALI.

Therefore, because the present proposal to cap Phase B amounts to an obvious attempt to create a new landfill operation, ALI should now be compelled to comply with all applicable local, state and federal requirements to obtain the necessary permits and approvals for such a proposed operation. I am sure that one of the primary requirements, if such permits and approvals could even be obtained today for a landfill site located in the Chartley Swamp, would be to remove the existing material from Phase B and line it appropriately. Even if that could be done, it probably would be prohibitively expensive.

2.  TRANSPORTATION

The importing of 650,00 cubic yards of material to be deposited in Phase B would require 35 to 70 truck trips per day, depending upon the size of the trucks and the hauling distance, six days per week for four years. That would put a tremendous and inordinate amount of stress and strain on the infrastructure of our local communities of Taunton, Norton and Attleboro.  Only the interstate highways and already upgraded state routes could begin to handle that kind of load and traffic. The local city and towns roads were never designed for that and it would be well beyond their capacity. Road surfaces, bridges, culverts and underground utilities, such as water, sewer and gas, would undoubtedly sustain serious and significant damage from that kind of punishment. 

A mere tipping fee, whether it's $.25, $1 or $2.52 per ton, would seem to be totally inadequate. In addition, there would be an unacceptable risk to the public safety of residents, whether as drivers or passengers in motor vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and children entering, exiting and riding on school buses. There would also be anticipated damage to private property along the routes travelled.

The possible alternative of rail transportation has been suggested more than once by more than one person. The secondary freight railroad line is located just a short distance from Peckham Street opposite Phase A. While the proponent's contractor's legal counsel has dismissed the logistics of rail as being prohibitively expensive, I don't believe that any qualified and disinterested professional has done a detailed logistical plan with an itemized cost and benefits analysis to compare with the real cost of transporting material by truck.

The portion of Pike Avene in Attleboro between Pleasant Street and Bishop Street has been restricted to no through trucking for approximately 30 years. At that time, the prior railroad bridge, which is located midway in that section of roadway, was a well-aged wooden structure in poor condition and not capable of handing heavy truck traffic. Consequently, very restrictive weight limits were established to prolong the life of that old bridge until it could be replaced. 

Approximately 20 years ago, a new footprint bridge of modern design was constructed as a replacement. In order to extend the life of the new bridge, as well as the bridge or culvert over the Bliss Brook located midway between the railroad bridge and Bishop Street, and because that section of roadway is narrow, winding and congested with varying slopes and grades, the Attleboro City Council officially designated the no through trucking restriction that still is in effect today and is posted accordingly at both ends.

Certainly, nothing has improved that would even allow consideration for a removal or even a suspension of that designation. Today, that roadway is busier and more congested than ever, being a popular connection for the increased residential population in that part of the city.

While, as stated previously, none of the local municipal roadways would be well-suited to that kind of excessive heavy truck traffic, it would be unfathomable to even consider using the restricted portion of Pike Avenue.  It would be a formula for tragedy and disaster similar to what has been happening with heavy trucks elsewhere in the commonwealth this year.

3.  INFORMATION

I attended the public information meeting organized by EndCap as required by the Mass DEP on Aug. 14 at the Solmonese School in Norton. It was a hot and humid midsummer night in a facility without air conditioning during the peak vacation season. No audio amplification system was utilized. A minimal and obscure public notice appeared in The Sun Chronicle on July 31. In spite of that, a number of people did attend, and many offered their heated comments on a steamy evening to an ill-designed plan, as I have already discussed in this letter. 

Initially, the public comment period for letters such as this was only 21 days, which would have been a deadline of Sept. 4, the day after Labor Day. Fortunately, that time period was extended by Mass DEP for an additional 24 days to Sept. 28.

I also attended the Attleboro Ward 4 public information meeting organized by Ward 4 City Councilor Jonathan Weydt and at-large City Councilor Richard Conti in the Bristol Community College auditorium. The meeting was well-organized and well-run. It was a very civil presentation of the facts as known at that time. Ward 4 residents had an opportunity to speak and ask questions or offer comments. The facility was very comfortable with air conditioning, an audio amplification system and included a basic PowerPoint presentation.

Mass DEP should have held its own public information meeting in Attleboro where the landfill is located after Labor Day, and then allowed at least 21 days for additional public comments in writing to be submitted. Even now, people are just beginning to realize what is being proposed and how it will affect their lives, particularly in Attleboro's Ward 4. Time and opportunity for the public to be informed and then to comment has been minimal at best.

4.  CONCLUSION

Based upon the foregoing, Mass DEP should reject the current proposal to cap and close Phase B of the Attleboro Landfill. If indeed anything actually needs to be done at this time, then a better plan must be developed to minimize the cost to the communities involved, the risk to the public and the harm to the environment.

Please consider this comment letter together with all the others submitted during the review and decision process. Thank you for your attention and consideration.

George I. Spatcher is an Attleboro resident and an attorney at Spatcher Law Offices in Attleboro.

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