Town taking steps to clean up Breakneck Hill farm dump under environmental Consent Order

Above: Some of the Town’s ARPA money will cover Phase I of the Town’s “remediation” plan to clean up an old farm dump on Breakneck Hill Conservation Land. (image cropped from fall 2019 video by Carl Guyer)

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:

Breakneck Hill Farm dump images from video posted by Carl GuyerThe 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.

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Carl Guyer
1 year ago

First I would like to thank for continuing to report on progress being made to clean up the illegal landfill on the Breakneck Hill Conservation land. With so many environmental issues, Climate Change, toxic chemicals, habitat loss, invasive species, mass extinction of species, etc, I am sure it is disheartening for residents of Southborough to learn our town government has been ignoring what is probably the worse environmental issue in town located on none other than protected Conservation land. Land under the management and care the Conservation Commission. A site on a hillside next to a stream flowing to the reservoir with a long history of denial and secret meetings.

Next I would like to make it clear the Consent Order from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is not a gentlemen’s agreement slap on the wrist. It is a grab you by the throat notice that your behavior is unacceptable, mandating a scheduled remediation which you, the taxpayer’s of Southborough, is now required to pay for. It requires the Select Board obtain funding ($60,000) for the initial investigation this year and funding for the entire clean up next year. This time table was constructed to allow the Board time to obtain the funding from Town Meeting this year and next year. The slippery move by Select Board to use Covid funds to go around this year’s town meeting may have some serious implications.

Since I was the culprit who turned in the town to the DEP when the Conservation Commission voted against telling the DEP they had this mess on their hands, I thought it appropriate to let the DEP know the Select Board thinks the Covid funds are available for this purpose. An odd decision by the Select Board since it makes all the Covid funds available and could result in the DEP modifying the Consent Order mandating immediate clean up. Not a bad outcome since it will expedite the environmental clean up which should take priority over less important desires.

In a parallel twist, I also find the use of Covid funds for addressing illegal activity by the town inappropriate and have notified both the State of Massachusetts Attorney General’s office and the Federal Inspector General’s office of my suspicion. And yes, maintaining an illegal landfill, whether you think it is illegal or not, is illegal. If my suspicions are correct, the Select Board could find itself in real pickle, but then I could be wrong and our next town meeting will be an interesting affair.

Lastly, I advise the residents of Southborough to think of the funds that will be needed to clean up this site in league with theft or embezzlement of town funds. This site was created by a commercial enterprise which somehow became the responsibility of current taxpayers. Forthcoming damage to taxpayers who now have to pay for this clearly evident and those responsible should be held accountable. To this end, a complete investigation of this calamity needs to be completed and all options for holding those responsible should be pursued.

Here are four questions which should be a good starting point :

Who created or contributed to this site?
How did the town get stuck with this mess ?
Who knew about this and did not act appropriately ?
Why has it not been addressed in the past ?

This is no accident…..

1 year ago
Reply to  Carl Guyer

Bring back the beautiful Oreo cookie cows,,,,,🐄🐄🐄🐄

PUBLIC WATER SUPPLY!!??? Release Unredacted Minutes Immediately
1 year ago

1). Thank you Carl Guyer and Beth.
2). Public water supply??? Rusted out barrels??!! WTH??? Those minutes MUST be released IMMEDIATELY UNREDACTED. Suing all those responsible PERSONALLY should commence. How does anyone know the groundwater isn’t already contaminated?
2). Carl, this STARTS and ends with TERRIBLE LEGAL SERVICES. Absolutely every single lawyer who put their hands on this project should be sued (personally AND their insurance) and reported to the Board of Overseers immediately to LOSE their LICENSES. Those brainless jerks are EXPERTS at doing the wrong, illegal thing while bilking the town for legal fees. This town needs honest, professional, competent legal services. FIRE this current firm.
3). Who is responsible?? Start with all lawyers involved, this current BOS and all the names listed on the REDACTED minutes.
4). It bears repeating: UNREDACTED MINUTES IMMEDIATELY, since this is a public health threat, and groundwater may already be contaminated?!! To BOS, do it now or run the risk of being sued personally. The public must know exactly what it is facing immediately. Cost??? Public health threat???

John Gulbankian
1 year ago

DEP huh: I guess it’s turned into a political organization like everything else.
Let me remind the fine townspeople that we had two DEP sitting attorneys on our town boards at one time. Rhonda Russian, Conn Com and Sal Giorlandino BOS; husband and wife who were present and active participants in all of this.

Seems when I put wood chips in my back yard to make it safe on slopes for my kids to play, they were all over me like white on rice. Claimed I was disturbing the wetlands ,not even close. more like harassment.
I was the target of vendetta by dishonored ZBA member with the initials L.B.
That we had to remove it immediately which we did.

Yet as Mr. Guyer says oil barrels in a tributary stream leading to reservoir.
Town sitting on a superfund site and everyone looks the other way.?
I find this really interesting that Southborough purchased the land without knowing the dump and associated aspects of it or just kick the can down the road?
Look the other way: how about “Killam Farm” dump that should also be a part of the town cleanup That was brought to light by My Southborough .
Again don’t ask don’t tell.

Carl Guyer
1 year ago

Right on cue… Here is one of the reasons due diligence is not just a nice phase. Every individual or organization unhappy with the enforcement of our environmental laws will crawl from under the woodwork to cry foul. Even those who comply will wonder why they cooperated.

1 year ago
Reply to  Carl Guyer

Sorry, but it’s not “crying foul” nor is it “right on cue” to desire even handedness, common sense, and fair play in scale with the type of infraction. You can’t compare looking the other way on rusted out barrels on tributaries to public drinking water supply to other more minor matters. No comparison. The MINUTE this dump surfaced as a public health threat it should have been addressed at every level, not taking out a black magic marker to REDACT and HIDE important details. The public must know fully what this threat is in order to protect its health, safety, and children.

All of those sitting on this matter and kicking the can down the road should be called out in matters that threaten public health and safety. It is outrageous and inappropriate to suggest otherwise.

1 year ago
Reply to  Carl Guyer

Beth, thank you for this excellent article. Can you do a separate article on the 2005 Minutes and that background information? Who authorized the purchase of the property? When and how were these redacted minutes finally released? When will the complete and full information be available to the public paying for this? Why do these minutes remain redacted? These minutes (and subsequent reports) call out limited testing. How does anyone know those barrels aren’t leaking into ground water and drinking water right now? “Glacial” is exactly the right word for the inaction, when speed is necessary.

The 2005 minutes cite “many” 55 gallon drums in various states of decay? How would limited testing done at a fixed point in time capture contamination of ground water (and tributary water to the Reservoir and Boston’s back up water supply) TODAY?

Carl, the town’s people owe you a debt of gratitude for all you have done. However, your comment above is undermined by the startling facts. This matter has had no proper attention locally, prompting you to quit Conservation Commission in protest, and seek direct and proper relief from the state!

Even with the Order (many thanks for that!), the barrels are still decaying and no one really knows if the are leaking right now into ground water and drinking water supply. This situation needs attention immediately. Not in years. Everyone, including the public, has a vital role to play in putting the sanitizing light of day on this situation and cleaning it up right now. Pesticides? Oils? Petroleum products? Hazardous materials? Asbestos? Hasn’t this town had a disproportionate number of citizens die from various cancers including pancreatic cancer, suffer from and die from neurological diseases? Has anyone looked at this? How does anyone know that those barrels aren’t still leaking?

John Gulbankian
1 year ago
Reply to  Carl Guyer

Mr. Guyer my post wasn’t an attack on anyone though you seem to be offended by it.
My comment was to show the lack of direction the town boards display. I was told even by same board; woodchips are used to hold back erosion. Since they have been removed that’s what’s happening in my yard.
This is an issue for another day.

Point I wanted to make is that since you’ve brought to light a superfund site and seems everyone has been aware of it though nothing has been done for years.

Previous board members were head of DEP and still did nothing.
most likely could of tapped into government funds and didn’t.
Now buck stops with all of us.

May I bring to your attention a few years ago DPW fuel tanks were leaking.
Same situation right into reservoir.
Excuse was given by same board: Wetlands are a good filter for Diesel fuel and everything is fine.
Same situation Killam Farm: open space with fuel barrels and rusted stuff, Etc.

It’s my opinion that nothing will happen and everyone will go back to sleep.

1 year ago

This is beyond outrageous and unacceptable. This entire matter needs an IMMEDIATE RESPONSE and REMEDIATION. Those rusting out barrels and any other threats to public health, any hazardous materials must be removed immediately.

WHO ARE THE GROSSLY NEGLIGENT MORONS, including Purple and any attorneys, who authorized the purchase of this property WITHOUT FIRST CONDUCTING STANDARD DUE DILIGENCE, an environmental report??! This is a basic fundamental practice in the purchase and sale of any property such as this. This type of report flags any and all environmental issues and may well have stopped the purchase dead in its tracks, until cleanup by those responsible and in the chain of liability. Those MORONS put the hard working taxpayers in this chain of risk. As another commenter has just stated, TIME TO CLEAN HOUSE. And all of this must be handled PROFESSIONALLY and PUBLICLY IMMEDIATELY.

1 year ago

meanwhile, all that junk sits out there, deteriorating over time and polluting the ground under it more and more.
How difficult for the town to ask DPW to free up a few hours each week to get some of the more obvious junk out of there? How much effort to pull a few discarded tires every now and then?
Instead, it seems the folks in charge just wring their collective hands worrying about the overall costs for a complete solution. Small steps have no value? I don’t think so.
As for discovering how we ended up in this mess, that should be a parallel battle. Let’s begin the actual cleanup now.

1 year ago
Reply to  southsider

I tried volunteering a while back walk in and clean up. There is some liability issue and it was publicly discouraged. There is also some truth to the issue of possibly dangerous items contained within. Also if the obvious stuff on the surface is removed then it would almost be out of site out of mind.
At this point we need an official cleanup, Yellow hazmat bags and everything. We need to document this process to help avoid these issues in the future.

Poisoning Wetlands DPW Spraying Roundup Pesticide
1 year ago

The above hazardous dump: Who knew? Who knew and when? What about ground water? What about tributaries to drinking water supplies?

Also: The DPW tree warden (unlicensed at the time) and Galligan allegedly sprayed the Town’s WETLANDS with the PESTICIDE “ROUNDUP” in 2017. The State caught up with them with Cease and Desist letters.

Who was on BOS in 2017, who oversees the town administrator, town counsel, and DPW?

In addition to the huge controversial alleged carcinogenic side effects that have resulted in mega lawsuits in favor of plaintiffs, this pesticide is alleged to be toxic to humans, animals, aquatic life (spraying wetlands?), and also found to cause significant mortality in bees.

Who knew in 2017? Or was this newly surfaced Cease and Desist information just filed in some file drawer? Where is transparency? Accountability?

What about public health and safety? What about these known violations of state law? All of them.

Round up every one of these turkeys, fire them and PROSECUTE to the extent of the law. This includes any attorneys who knew.

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