Landfill Conflict Fails To Overshadow Excitement Over New Technologies
By: Diana T. Barth
It takes two to make a fight, and selectmen this week said that there will not be a power struggle between their board and the board of health.
The push-pull between the two boards over the management of the landfill, however, almost overshadowed Tuesday’s presentation by the ISWM Business Model Working Group.
That group, led by Selectman Donald J. Pickard, has worked for months to help answer the call by Department of Integrated Solid Waste Management personnel for direction from the town.
Acting ISWM general manager Daniel J. Barrett, and former manager Brent T. Goins before him, said that the landfill could work toward short-term profits or maximize landfill life—or some combination of the two—but that they need the town to tell the department what it wants.
Part of that equation is how new technology fits into the picture. In the fall of 2009, a report was issued by Virginia-based Joyce Engineering Inc., the consulting firm that looked at landfill operations. That firm concluded that the MacArthur Boulevard facility is a “tremendous asset,” and that it had put in place much of the infrastructure that poised it to take advantage of that technology.
In the wake of that report, when the downturn in the economy made running the landfill look as if it were as much a problem as an advantage, a number of private companies began beating at the town’s door, making proposals to use some or all of that facility.
The working group, which included, among others, board of health member Stanley Andrews, Robert E. Schofield of the selectmen’s energy advisory committee, George Redman of the finance committee and at-large member William Ware, in conjunction with ISWM staff, began hearing those proposals.
This week the working group, with the help of consultant George Aronson of CommonWealth Resource Management Corporation, made recommendations as to which of the technologies those private companies were proposing might be of benefit to the town, and thus worth further exploration.
The group reported on six proposals and then focused on the ones that might have some immediate advantage.
None of those technologies are experimental, Mr. Aronson and ISWM environmental manager Philip A. Goddard told attendees of this week’s meeting, which brought together selectmen and members of the board of health, FinCom, and the energy advisory committee. Nor, they said, would any of them require the burial of more than minimal materials.
The working group and its experts recommended deferring consideration of putting solar panels on the property for two or three years, until landfill areas are capped and ready.
They also suggested that ISWM staff, the board of health, and selectmen all review a detailed plan from Plankton Power, the company that wants to use the emissions from the landfill flare, where the gas produced by decomposing garbage is burned. That Woods Hole-based research project would, at this point, have minimal impact on the landfill, as it would involve bottling and removing flare emissions, using them off-site.
That left four proposals. Two of those four would require the use of five or six acres on the landfill site. One would involve producing biogas from a process called anaerobic digestion, and the other would involve converting construction and demolition wood waste into gas, producing biodiesel and waxes.
The other two proposals would need one acre of land or less—land that could be used to either dry biosolids or, as proposed by National Grid, treat landfill gas and add it to that company’s pipeline.
In order to assess and evaluate those four technologies, the experts recommended that the ISWM staff develop a Request For Proposals to lease out a 5.7-acre and a 1.1-acre area of the landfill. That way, the onus would be on the proponents of the technologies to pitch the advantages of their technologies and provide proof of their ability to perform.
That would allow the staff, and the town, to evaluate the possibilities for those two sites without picking a technology in advance. While the RFP process was ongoing, staff and experts could develop business, or contractual, terms that would protect the town from some of the risks of using the new technologies. They could also develop selection criteria with which to evaluate the proposals, including looking at sites where the various technologies have already been put into practice.
Also, the town would have time to answer questions such as whether the processing of biosolids would be acceptable on the landfill. Meeting attendees heard that the Department of Environmental Protection has had a moratorium on landfill technologies that involve combustion since 1990, and is considering expanding the definition of combustion to include such practices as gasification (or heating a substance until it turns to gas). Staff could further explore what effect that expanded definition would have on its ability to implement new technologies.
Lastly, the working group recommended hosting a forum in Bourne for Cape Cod policy makers—primarily the selectmen of Cape towns. That forum would give those decision-makers information on ISWM and gain feedback on their waste disposal needs.
The Cape Cod Commission plans to release an RFP of its own next year to explore ways of disposing of municipal solid waste after 2015, when the majority of the towns’ contracts with the waste-handler Covanta expire. Covanta, the experts said, is marketing post-2015 contracts now, in anticipation of commission action. If Bourne wants to dispose of the Cape’s waste, it has a short window of opportunity to act before the region’s towns lock into contracts with other facilities.
After hearing those recommendations and some comments and questions from the floor, Mr. Pickard asked if the boards that were present wanted to authorize ISWM staff to move forward with those recommendations.
Both the selectmen and FinCom members voted yes.
The board of health members, however, did not simply defer the request until they could confer at their next meeting, as did the members of the energy advisory committee, which did not have a quorum present.
Instead, board of health Chairman Kathleen A. Peterson said her board would not, and could not, vote on any proposal until it had full information on the technology.
Ms. Peterson said the board of health holds the landfill’s “site assignment” and has certain landfill responsibilities in conjunction with that permit under state law. She said her board would abstain from any decision until it had spoken with counsel. She said her board had been asking to consult with an attorney with environmental law expertise.
Mr. Pickard said the recommendations did not tie the landfill to any technology, but only allowed for proposals, and further evaluation.
That prompted board of health member Galon L. (Skip) Barlow to say, “We won’t be intimidated into taking any action.”
His board, he said, would take action only when a fully fleshed proposal comes before it. He also said that the landfill, which is working on the capping of Phase 2A/3A, has existing environmental issues that need to be addressed.
Ms. Peterson said she wants to see a permanent landfill manager named before her board considered anything else. Ms. Peterson also said the board of health’s stand does not preclude selectmen and others from taking any action they want to take.
Selectman John A. Ford Jr. said it was generally the practice that boards submit a legal question or questions to Town Counsel Robert S. Troy first, and if he believes the answer requires special expertise, he will help to find an attorney that has that expertise. If a board requests the services of a specific attorney, Mr. Troy will ensure that there is no conflict of interest. In the case of the board of health, meeting attendees heard, that board suggested an attorney who had a possible conflict, since that firm was involved in a suit against the town.
Ms. Peterson and Mr. Barlow both said, however, that the board of health could not move forward without the legal clarifications they were requesting.
Selectmen have ultimate responsibility over future activities at the landfill. In response, Mr. Troy sent out a memorandum on Monday that said the running of the department fell to selectmen and the administrator, and the board of health had jurisdiction over any activities prohibited by the site assignment or that presented a threat to public health, safety or the environment.
After Tuesday’s meeting was adjourned, Ms. Peterson said to Mr. Ford a legal opinion depended directly on the question that was asked. She said the board of health had a number of questions with regard to the site assignment and their responsibility under the law.
After some discussion, it was decided that Ms. Peterson and, at her request, former board of health chairman Steven A. MacNally, sit down with Mr. Troy, perhaps in his Sandwich office to shorten the time frame for such a meeting, and talk directly about the board of health’s need for ongoing consultation.
Tuesday’s meeting, itself, ended with Mr. Barrett’s thank-you to the working group, which he said had been “fantastic” in getting ideas on the table and implementation “moving forward.”
The four committees will meet again jointly in January.