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People of Ayer Concerned About the Environment would like to encourage the public to join in a tour of the Army’s newly-constructed groundwater treatment plant at Shepley’s Hill Landfill on Thursday, April 13, at 4 p.m. The treatment plant is located at the end of Scully Road in Ayer, just off the West Main Street bridge that passes over the railroad tracks.

The new facility is part of a plan to control the spread of arsenic-contaminated groundwater from the Army-owned landfill. Currently, contaminated groundwater is heading toward Molumco Road and properties on West Main Street. The history of Shepley’s Hill Landfill dates back to 1917, when the Army began disposing of asbestos, demolition debris, incineration ash, spent shell casings, household wastes and other unknown Army wastes. Shepley’s Hill Landfill is huge, encompassing approximately 84 acres.

The Army’s environmental investigations have shown that heavy metals, primarily arsenic, have been leaching from the landfill into the groundwater. PACE is concerned about the arsenic that is moving in the groundwater toward residential areas, Nonacious Brook and sensitive wetlands located to the north of West Main Street in Ayer. The construction and startup of the treatment plant has been a long time in coming. In 1998, when PACE first got involved, the Army studies showed that the landfill cap was not controlling the migration of arsenic from the landfill. We believe that according to the 1995 “Record of Decision,” this finding had legally triggered the need to construct the treatment plant. However, the Army, EPA and DEP agreed to instead perform an investigation of arsenic migration.

The investigation showed that arsenic had spread further from the landfill than previously thought. In April 2002, EPA issued a letter that required the Army to “immediately execute” the pumping and treatment system. However, construction did not begin until mid-2004. A December 2004 projected startup date was missed when neither the town of Ayer nor Devens was willing to accept the treated ground water in their wastewater treatment systems. A revised February 2005 startup date was delayed again, when unforeseen problems caused by methane gas (a common landfill gas) were encountered. The treatment plant has finally been turned on in March of 2006, eight years later!

According to the Army, the new treatment plant should stop additional arsenic-contaminated groundwater from traveling away from the landfill. To find out more about the treatment plant tour, or to request additional information on the environmental concerns involving Fort Devens, please contact Laurie Nehring, People of Ayer Concerned about the Environment (PACE), at (978) 772-9749 or visit http://www.pace-ayer.org. New members in PACE are always welcome and needed!

LAURIE NEHRING, PACE