It Was a Bad Idea Before, It’s a Terrible Idea Now

February 2, 2018
By

The intense coastal blizzard of Jan. 4, 2018, devastated many communities across the state, including mine.  As I watched the storm progress, and saw the tides get higher and higher, I started receiving many calls, emails, and videos from frantic neighbors in Revere and Saugus asking me for help.  As I heard their cries for help, it became more apparent than ever that opening up the already capped portions of this landfill that are closest to the Pines River is not only wrong.  In my opinion, it is a total disregard for the health and safety of the people I represent.

This recent coastal storm proves just how vulnerable my district is to storm surges and high tides.  Relative to this proposal, of particular concern are the neighborhoods of the Riverside, Oak Island and Point of Pines in Revere.  These neighborhoods are not only susceptible to flooding, but are also located less than a half mile directly across the Pines River from the capped portions of landfill that the company wants to reactivate.

In the aftermath of this storm, when Gov. Baker visited the flooded areas in Scituate, I was extremely encouraged to hear his comments about collaborating with people from around the state to protect coastal communities from storm surges.  With climate change and rising sea levels, the real impacts on citizens who live on the coast should be taken into consideration when making policy decisions.

Wheelabrator’s proposal flies in the face of Gov. Baker’s comments about protecting coastal communities from storm surges, and in fact, does just the opposite by allegedly putting my district and the people who live in the shadow of this facility in imminent danger.  At this juncture in time, the Department of Environmental Protection should be requiring Wheelabrator to begin closure of this landfill, and plan for remediation to safeguard what is already there, especially in light of its vulnerable coastal location.

In a video that was taken on Mills Avenue during white out conditions on Jan. 4, it shows the intense flooding that occurs in the Riverside neighborhood during powerful coastal storms.  For reference, Mills Avenue is directly across the Pines River from the already capped portions of the landfill:

 

My concern, and that of those I represent, is if this part of the landfill was reactivated for the first time in decades, the River and the neighborhood across from it would be even more susceptible to contamination in the event of an intense storm like we saw last week.  Additionally, if flood waters reach the property and contaminate the active part(s) of the landfill, in my opinion, there is no doubt the landfill’s integrity would be compromised, and ash would get into the waters.

In addition to flooding concerns for neighborhoods I represent in Revere, it should also be noted that similar instances occurred in Saugus as well on January 4th.  Constituents of mine in East Saugus who live in neighborhoods closest to the Rumney Marsh experienced the same level of flooding on their streets and in their homes. In fact, the conditions during the storm were so severe that an entire section of Route 107 from Revere to Lynn was closed to traffic in both directions due to extreme flooding.  (Footnote – Wheelabrator is located at 100 Salem Turnpike, Saugus, right on Route 107 North).  Also, Route 1A from Revere to Lynn, another roadway which straddles the Rumney Marsh, was closed due to intense flooding.

As you can see from the effects of this storm, the Department of Environmental Protection should not allow Wheelabrator to deposit an additional 500,000 tons of contaminated ash in the unlined ash landfill in Rumney Marsh in Saugus. The landfill has already exceeded its lifetime by two decades; another five to ten years is unacceptable, and unconscionable.

The Saugus ash landfill is allegedly the most dangerous landfill in the state, posing significant risks to public health and the environment because it does not have the modern protections required by state and federal law, because it is located in a saltwater marsh, and because it is less than two miles from the homes of over 50,000 people in the Environmental Justice communities of Saugus, Revere, and Lynn.

The Saugus ash landfill is allegedly the only ash or municipal solid waste landfill in the state accepting waste into an unlined landfill cell.  Lacking the double, plastic liner system now required by law, the Department of Environmental Protection originally ordered Wheelabrator to close the landfill by December, 1996 – that is 21 years ago.  However, over the last two decades, the Department has allowed Wheelabrator to remain open in an abuse of MassDEP’s consent order power, despite the obvious danger to the community.

No amount of engineering or planning could justify expanding the Wheelabrator Saugus ash landfill which is located within the Rumney Marshes Area of Critical Environmental Concern – one of the most precious salt marshes north of Boston.  As previously stated, the landfill is also adjacent to the Pines and Saugus Rivers, which empty into America’s First Public Beach.  As witnessed with the January 4th storm, rising seas and increasingly intense coastal storms increase the urgency to safeguard our communities by closing and securing this coastal landfill.  Adding more contaminated ash to this vulnerable site goes against state efforts to mitigate negative impacts of climate change, and protect coastal infrastructure, natural resources, and neighborhoods.

The contents of the ash which go into the landfill are even more concerning that  allegedly include  fly ash, which contains high levels of lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and other pollutants, is mixed with bottom ash, and is then dumped at the landfill every day.

With regard to public safety, it is extremely troubling how often there seems to be issues arising at the facility.

o   There have been at least three small fires within the past year on the property.

o   There have been at least two ash spills in the past year requiring hazardous precautions to be taken.

  • Although the ash is supposedly “non-toxic,” whenever a spill occurs outside of the landfill area, it must be treated as a hazardous spill.

Aside from the environmental, public health and safety concerns, there is a myriad of quality of life issues associated with living in close proximity to this facility and its landfill.   There have been issues in recent years with a silencer at the facility, which has resulted, on many occasions, in an ungodly noise that my constituents – my neighbors and friends – have had to endure, sometimes day and night, for days on end.  The most recent occurrence was just this week on January 9, 2018.  The noise could be heard for miles, and for those living close by, it sounded like a constant jet hovering over their homes.  Nobody should have to suffer that kind of prolonged noise, which truly is a nuisance and totally unacceptable.  In addition to the noise, constituents in Saugus and Revere have reported that at certain times, a strong stench is allegedly emitted from the facility into the neighborhood.

Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution states that, “The people shall have the right to clean air and water, freedom from excessive and unnecessary noise, and the natural, scenic, historic, and esthetic qualities of their environment.”  I whole-heartedly believe that allowing the Saugus ash landfill to continue operations is in complete and utter violation of Article 97.

When is enough, enough?

Officials in the Town of Saugus and the City of Revere have been united in their opposition to any and all actions which would extend the life of the Saugus ash landfill:

The Saugus Board of Selectmen and Saugus Town Meeting adopted resolutions in 2016 to support “that which will result in a net decrease of air emissions and ash disposal.”

The Saugus Board of Selectmen reaffirmed this stance in December, 2017, and remains opposed to any further expansion of this landfill.

In 2016, both the Revere City Council and Revere School Committee adopted resolutions which oppose any expansion of the Saugus ash landfill.

In January, 2018, the Revere City Council approved a motion by a roll call vote (10-1) to submit a letter to DEP officials in opposition to this proposal currently before DEP.

In February, 2017, the Saugus Town Meeting adopted three zoning bylaws which would prevent any ash landfill in the Town of Saugus from expanding higher than 50 feet.

o   The Saugus Board Health has also taken the position that Wheelabrator should be seeking a site assignment from its honorable body before moving forward with any and all plans for expanding its capacity and extending closure, including the proposal currently before DEP.

  • In 2016, the Saugus Board of Health attempted to compel Wheelabrator to apply for a site assignment relative to this proposal, but Wheelabrator protested, and insisted a site assignment is unnecessary.

I contend that not only is this particular landfill unsafe, it was never supposed to be a forever solution.  Now is the time to permanently close this fossil of a facility and implement the safeguards needed to protect people, natural resources, and our communities for the future.

In closing, my constituents who live in Saugus and Revere have lived with this facility for well over forty years, and have had to endure environmental and health hardship because of it.  I stand firmly with the residents of Saugus and Revere, and the alliance of highly respected environmental groups in urging the Department of Environmental Protection to not grant this permit request.

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