- Portsmouth, NH-based Wheelabrator wants to expand a landfill in Saugus, MA to continue dumping ash from its incinerator, but residents and officials want to shut the plant down completely. Opponents of the plan are concerned about environmental and health impacts from ash accumulating at the dump, which has no puncture-resistant plastic liner to prevent leaching into groundwater. Wheelabrator argues the landfill has a high-tech groundwater protection system and a protective barrier wall.
- If the company’s expansion proposal is rejected, it says the plant would ship the ash to another landfill which would cost more, and those costs would be passed down to residents, as reported in The Boston Globe. Local officials are calling for capping of the landfill to allow for a solar farm that could power almost twice as many homes and businesses as the incinerator, and generate more revenue for the town.
- The landfill expansion will be up for a Board of Health vote this summer.
The concept of burning trash to generate energy has fueled debate around the country, with plant operators and owners typically claiming they have protective systems to prevent harm. But residents and officials, certainly in Saugus, don’t buy this. In fact the state of Massachusetts has banned the building of similar WTE plants believed to have detrimental health and environmental impacts, and there has only been one built in the whole country in the past 20 years.
Joan LeBlanc, executive director of the Saugus River Watershed Council, is leading the fight to stop the expansion. "We’re extremely concerned about a breach, and what that would do to the fish, beaches, and air," she told Boston Globe.
However Jim Connolly, Wheelabrator’s vice president of environmental, health, and safety, said the facility meets all environmental standards. "We're really looking to continue to do what we’re doing: the same ash, on the same property, in the same amount we’re doing today," he said as reported in The Boston Globe, adding the plant has created 57 jobs, and generates $3.4 million a year in taxes.
Arguably, the 450,000 tons of solid waste the plant takes in a year have to go somewhere. But the people of Saugus have had enough, especially since the state claimed 8,000 gallons of ash spilled into a parking lot and wetlands in 2009 due to a broken filter, among other allegations.
State Representative RoseLee Vincent has proposed legislation that would require the landfill to close by the end of the year.