In a couple of stories I have mentioned how the Select Board allocated some ARPA funds to help to lower the FY23 tax burden.* But I’ve yet to cover what one of those allocations is about – $59,515 for “Breakneck Hill remediation”.
The last time I wrote about the old farm dump that needs remediation was in fall 2020. So, it’s time for a refresher and an update.
I’ll start off with the good news. The Town came to an agreement with the Mass Dept. of Environmental Protection for a process to clean up the dump on Town owned conservation land. The Consent Order Agreement describes the dump contents:
The solid waste disposed of at the Property includes but is not limited to old tires, machine parts, rusted 55-gallon drums, asphalt shingles, appliances, heavy equipment broken ceramics, plastic objects, and general trash
They are currently in the first phase of the cleanup plan.
The bad news is that the expense of completing the following phases is uncertain and may be significant. Unless another grant comes our way, expect a funding request to be on a Town Meeting Warrant this fall or next spring.
According to Conservation Agent Melissa Danza the signed agreement with the state gives the town two fiscal years to complete the multi-phase process:
The Select Board has determined the use of ARPA funds for Phase I of the cleanup process, which is limited tree clearing, test pits, and soil sampling. TRC Environmental, our professional consultant for this project, is beginning to put together a Notice of Intent to submit to the Conservation Commission for approval and are hoping for work to be completed by mid-August. The test pitting process should take less than a week (ideally 2 or 3 days) and then TRC will be providing a proposed clean-up plan that will need to be approved by DEP. The cost of the actual cleanup will not be known until the test pits are completed, and cleanup plan approved by DEP, but will be funded and completed for the FY24 process.
So, how did we get here? It appears to be a classic case of kicking the can down the road.
A memo by Danza to the Select Board indicates that the Town became aware of the dump about seven years after the 1980 purchase of the Conservation Land.
The memo details the seemingly responsible, transparent actions of officials over the years based on evidence from multiple tests that there was no environmental hazards.
Eventually, the Board of Health determined that while there wasn’t a toxic hazard, the site itself was a safety issue (despite being buried in the woods away from trails.) That report was issued to the Select Board in December 2020.
In Spring 2021, Conservation hired TRC to help them work out a remediation plan. Last fall, the Town self reported the farm dump issue and their plans to deal with it to the DEP. That purportedly gave them more credibility to work out a plan under an Administrative Consent Order.
But there are a few things worth noting:
(1) Despite public pressure, the Town still hasn’t released unredacted minutes from 2005 Conservation discussions or the information the Town received from counsel about the dump. (You can read redacted minutes here.)
(2) Leaving the dump in place over the years also meant leaving barrels to rust and other debris to deteriorate on the site.
The uncertainty the Town has around the ultimate expense of cleanup relates to uncertainty of what hazards they may discover when they make a sincere attempt to tackle the dump.
(3) In Fall 2019, Conservation member Carl Guyer**, frustrated by the Town’s glacial handling of the issues and past inaction, began publicly sounding off. (Including on this blog.) He was persistent both publicly and behind the scenes pushing for the Town to take the necessary steps and report the issue to MassDEP.
He certainly wasn’t the only Commissioner that voiced concerns about the dump. But he was the one who made it clear he wouldn’t toe the line if the Town tried to keep ignoring the issues.
As for the most recent steps taken. . .
In December, Danza told Conservation that the consultant, TRC, was estimating that the first two tasks for the dump cleanup would cost $15-20K. In early January, she updated that DEP was asking for additional testing and methods to remove certain products that would impact the quote.
The January 24th memo informed the Select Board that the quote for the consultant’s Proposed Assessment Plan was close to $60K. You can read the memo followed by the draft plan here. You can read the subsequent Consent Order agreement here.
Prior to signing off on the agreement, the Select Board discussed it with Town Counsel at their April 12th meeting.
Members asked about the cleanup costs and liabilities caused by contacting the DEP and entering the agreement. Counsel clarified that they were legally required to report the issues, and would have still had the liability without taking the steps.
The language of the Consent Order states that by taking possession of the land and not having cleaned it up, the Town in effect maintained the illegal dump.
One issue they have been hashing through this spring was easements needed from an abutter. In Conservation’s May 12th meeting, Danza updated that the abutter was requesting that test pits first be done on the Town site, to determine if they are really needed on her property.
*For those wondering about the concept that paying for the remediation reduced taxes – The Town was looking to use some of the ARPA funds to remove items from the budgets/Articles that Annual Town Meeting voters would have otherwise been asked to have covered by next year’s taxes. This was one they identified, with the justification that it wasn’t a recurring cost. (It doesn’t escape me that they also avoided having to spend time at Town Meeting answering questions about this. But that wasn’t the rationale presented.)
**Guyer is no longer on the Commission. He resigned between their February and March 2022 meetings, after the Commission had begun talks with DEP about their remediation plan.