Alliance for Health and Environment Decries Baker Administration’s Decision to Allow Wheelabrator to Expand Saugus Ash Landfill
SAUGUS – In the wake of Monday’s announcement by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection to grant a final permit to Wheelabrator Saugus to extend the life of its ash landfill, local officials and respected environmental advocacy groups are expressing strong disapproval of the Baker administration’s decision. Under the permit, Wheelabrator will now be able to uncap 39 acres in two drainage valleys and fill them with over 500,000 tons of incinerator ash over the next five to ten years. The Alliance for Health and Environment is mulling an appeal to the decision.
The Saugus landfill is the only ash or municipal solid waste landfill in the Commonwealth accepting waste into an unlined landfill cell. Lacking the double, plastic liner system now required by law, it was supposed to stop accepting ash in December, 1996. The landfill remains open through a consent order, granting MassDEP full permitting authority over its operations. Monday’s decision grants an 11th amendment to the consent order. Under the conditions set forth by MassDEP, Wheelabrator is required to establish a fund to pay up to $2.5 million for engineering services to implement a Phase IV remedy implementation plan for the former Dewey Daggett landfill site that abuts the Wheelabrator property — or other work related to the preservation, restoration or conservation of the Rumney Marshes Area of Critical Environmental Concern.
“All options, including litigation, are on the table in light of the MassDEP’s questionable decision. This conversation does not end today with the granting of this permit,” said State Representative RoseLee Vincent. “The Saugus landfill is not meant to be a forever solution to the region’s solid waste issues. This permit extends the life of the only unlined landfill in Massachusetts for the next five to ten years. In the conditions set forth under the permit, MassDEP should have required that Wheelabrator begin preparing a plan for closure of the landfill, but yet again, the administration missed the mark. Residents and officials must continue to be vocal and vigilant to demand that at the very least, this is the last time Wheelabrator’s landfill is granted an extension.”
“According to Wheelabrator’s own data, 80% of the trash it burns can be composted or recycled. The Commonwealth should be enforcing its zero waste regulation, not expanding an unlined landfill with another 500,000 tons of toxic ash,” said Kirstie Pecci, Director of the Zero Waste Project, Conservation Law Foundation. “We will all be able to breathe easier when the Commonwealth stops pandering to dangerous landfills and starts protecting public health by getting serious about zero waste.”
“By approving a 10-year expansion of Wheelabrator’s ash landfill in Saugus, MassDEP missed a crucial opportunity to protect the valuable natural resources of the Rumney Marshes Area of Critical Environmental Concern by closing and securing this coastal landfill once and for all. With rising seas and increasingly damaging coastal storm surge, it’s only a matter of time before the integrity of this coastal landfill is compromised putting people and the environment at risk from the impacts of ash contaminated with mercury, dioxin, and arsenic washing into the Pines and Saugus River estuary,” said Saugus River Watershed Council Executive Director Joan LeBlanc. “Paying funds toward capping one landfill in order to buy the right to rip open and reactivate the capped portion of another is not environmental protection.”
“Saugus, Lynn, and Revere residents deserve better from the MassDEP,” said Sofia Owen, Attorney and Eastern Massachusetts Organizer for Community Action Works. “Rather than granting a permit for Wheelabrator to continue to burn waste and dump ash into a landfill, the state should be focused on promoting solutions that protect people’s health, reduce waste, spur local green economic innovation and offer safe and well-paying jobs to area residents.”
“With this permit decision, the Baker Administration just formalized its position of disregard for environmental justice and the health of families living in the shadow of Wheelabrator in Saugus,” said Cindy Luppi, Clean Water Action New England Director. “Shame on them – we will not stop fighting! We will certainly be exploring all avenues open to us to seek justice for Saugus and its neighbors.”
“Saugus, being the host community of the incinerator and the landfill, should have a voice in what happens in our town. After over 20 years of having a strong public outcry that this landfill needs to be closed, MassDEP continues not only to allow Wheelabrator to expand, but to uncap 39 acres – which is counterintuitive,” said Debra Panetta, Chair of the Saugus Board of Selectmen. “We have continuously stated that the landfill was supposed to be closed in 1996. We explained that it’s in an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. We showed the cancer statistics in our community and how many cancers are higher in Saugus, Revere, and Lynn when compared to other Massachusetts cities and towns. We have talked about coastal flooding and the environmental risk from the impacts of the heavy metals. However, the voices of the residents continue to be ignored. What kind of disaster needs to happen before the MassDEP says ‘no more?”
“SAVE is both disappointed and disheartened that MassDEP has, once again, decided to extend the closure date for the ash landfill in Saugus and place additional fill in two valleys of the landfill,” said Ann Devlin, President of Saugus Action Volunteers for the Environment. “This expansion will destroy an already capped portion of the landfill, which is currently part of the much touted bird sanctuary, and continue to imperil this environmentally sensitive area and the health and wellbeing of the residents of Saugus and surrounding communities.”
“I am deeply saddened by this decision, not only for the current residents of Revere and Saugus, but for the future generations to come. This decision shows a blatant disregard for the health and well-being of all who surround this facility. The disregard for the wetlands, public health and opinions of residents is quite evident in the state’s decision,” said Revere City Council President Jessica Giannino. “It is my hope that we can be proactive to ensure that this is the last expansion and effort to keep this facility active. The residents and representatives of Revere and Saugus must stay vigilant and continue to fight for what we believe.”
“What a sad day it is when MassDEP and the Baker administration ignore an outcry from so many people, political leaders, and environmental specialists advocating to stop an expansion of the ash landfill to protect abutting neighborhoods, and an Area of Critical Environmental Concern,” said Joanne McKenna, President of the Friends of Belle Isle Marsh. “Wheelabrator is surrounded by poor urban communities, could be detrimental to people’s health, and could possibly contaminate 1 of only 4 salt marshes in Massachusetts. Yet a decision of this magnitude does not demand the approval of anyone else other than Big Money? Apparently! It is so disappointing that there is a disregard for people’s health and our environment, along with a disregard for those many voices that went unheard. Shame!”
The MassDEP’s final decision can be viewed here: https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/04/09/wsi-fepmod.pdf.