Experiment At Landfill Blamed For Smelly Situation

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By: Diana T. Barth
Published: 04/30/10

Selectmen were given a quick overview Tuesday, complete with pictures, of the Bourne landfill’s last 10 years, during which the landfill earned gross revenues of nearly $100 million.

That history was presented along with a rundown of current issues.

Those included a focus on improving communication between the board of health, which has statutory authority over some aspects of the landfill, and selectmen, tasked with keeping an eye on the operations and finances.

They also included worry over the possibility that summer would bring a return of the rotten egg smell that occurs when the gypsum in wallboard breaks down. Landfills around the country have reported similar issues with wallboard.

One issue that ended up on center stage, however, was a suggestion by Gerard O’Brien of the Waste to Energy Reclamation Company that approached the town at the end of last year to propose a public-private partnership to run the landfill. Mr. O’Brien, who publicly withdrew that proposal last month, suggested that an experimental biological treatment begun in 2007 and ended in 2009 might have been the cause of, or exacerbated, those smells.

Mr. O’Brien and Joyce A. Lorman, his partner and a candidate for selectman, told selectmen that the landfill had injected bacteria into about 14 acres of the landfill site and as a result caused millions of dollars in damage.

Asked about the issues, and the status of a patent application for the bacterial treatment, landfill environmental expert Philip Goddard said that the town had partnered with Hydros Inc. as they searched for less expensive, innovative ways to control the breakdown of construction and demolition materials.

Mr. Goddard and acting landfill General Manager Daniel J. Barrett said that they did not have the knowledge of the project that former manager Brent C. Goins had, but could say that they stopped work on the project with the downturn in the economy.

The town and Hydros are, however, jointly applying for the patent, which Mr. Goddard said is still pending. Hydros, based on Waterhouse Road, Bourne, focuses on “identifying, enhancing, and controlling microbial species in agriculture, aquaculture, landfills, and hydroponics.”

Selectmen heard that the contract for Hydros’ bacteriological work was signed by Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino, who noted that it was a $141,000 investment by the town that was part of a $14 million annual operation. Hydros also funded part of the project.

Board of Health member Galon L. (Skip) Barlow said his board had been unable to get information on the project, having been told that the process was proprietary.

Neither Mr. Guerino nor the landfill personnel, none of whom have a background in microbiology, could refute the suggestions as to the cause of the smell, so selectmen asked that a representative of Hydros and, possibly Mr. Goins, be invited to a meeting to explain the science.

For those who are interested in the process, Hydros Inc. is online and its landfill gas information can be found at www.hydros.cc/landfillgas.htm.

Buzzards Bay resident James A. Mulvey summed up the issue at the end of the meeting by saying it was a discussion about the past, and he was interested in seeing that the board address issues going forward.

To that end, selectmen have tentatively set Tuesday, May 11, for a presentation on a long-term plan for the landfill by consultant George H. Aronson of CommonWealth Resource Management.

This week, Mr. Goddard reviewed the odor management measures the landfill had undertaken, including the fact that it has stopped taking the construction and demolition material that has contributed to the smell.

He and Mr. Barrett explained that the landfill is now working in a place where the slope is such that it cannot quickly cover that material, which smells when it is exposed.

The ongoing capping with a material called Posi Shell, along with the nine new wells that are among the items in the capital budget coming before voters at next week’s Town Meeting, will also help.

Mr. Goddard also outlined the questions that need to be answered going forward, including accepting long-term contracts, the types of waste that should be accepted, tonnage, revenue goals, and the all-encompassing questions as to whether the landfill’s goal should be to make money, short term; extend the landfill’s life as long as possible so as to continue to accept residents’ trash; or a balance of the two.

He underlined that even if the landfill acreage is filled and capped, the town still has the 25 acres that the board of health designated for something other than fill, which could be used long term as a transfer station operation.

In looking back over the past 10 years, Mr. Goddard told selectmen that all of the many improvements made to the facility, including liners, caps, the new gas collection system, the new residential recycling center, C&D transfer station, baling facility, and new scales, which will be updated along with the upcoming building of a new entrance and the final move of the recycling area, have all been funded by ISWM profits.

He reported that from 1999 through 2009, his department has give the town $17 million in cash, including the community host fees, and in avoided costs, such as residential trash pick-up.

He said that 2009 was the most difficult year in ISWM history, with revenue down about $8.3 million, which is a huge 36 percent less than Fiscal Year 2007.

In spite of that, Mr. Goddard said, the landfill has completed the transfer station and new recyling area and has continued funding closure accounts.

The landfill has also made changes to the way it tracks its finances, making it easier for management to analyze profitability.

One of the budget articles coming before next Monday’s Special Town Meeting, when issues pertaining to the current fiscal year are addressed, would do two things.

It would allow for a budget increase of $450,000 to deal with the increase in leachate (liquid) disposal costs caused by record rainfall, such as the 18 inches that fell in March. It would also increase the town’s host fee by $350,000 because landfill tonnage has increased more than had been anticipated when this year’s budget was prepared.

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