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Staff Writer

PEPPERELL — Massachusetts Composting Group’s (MCG) 18-year-old plans to build an organic composting facility on 49 acres off Nashua Road beside the airport are still moving ahead although struggling — this time due to an expired special permit.

Sole principal David Burton and attorneys concluded a public hearing on the permit Dec. 8. Burton formerly shared that role with former co-owners Robert Winter, of Townsend, and the late Conrad Eaton. A decision is expected at the next Planning Board meeting.

The compost facility will take in specific wastes, primarily organic, process them and turn them into garden-enhancement materials similar to potting soil. There is no odor involved and should there be complaints, the Board of Health can shut the facility down, MCG attorney Rich Bennett assured planners.

It would be, he said, the only fully enclosed design of its kind.

To the concerns of planner Mark Marston, Bennett and Burton said the large fans used to move air through the material will be quiet and move air through underground pipes to a second of three buildings (one of them 55,000 square feet). The air would then move through a bio-filter system rather than exhaust directly into the air.

“Everything is inside, including trucks,” Burton said. He estimated organic waste from the Pepperell transfer station could be brought in for about $45 per ton instead of being shipped to Lawrence at $75 to $80 per ton. He said Highway Superintendent Peter Shattuck has estimated the town could save between $25,000 and $30,000 per year.

Bennett said an open air composting facility in Worcester, comprised of long “windrows” of piled material that are periodically churned by heavy equipment, is situated immediately beside homes and there is no odor.

Planning Board Chairman Nicholas Cate said DEP approval must be gained before any operation can begin. Bennett estimated a two-year timeline from final approval to operation.

Over the years, the proposed facility has spawned several court filings.

In 2002, a Land Court decision overturned a special permit to allow MCG to remove a low-lying gravel cliff on the property on an appeal of a selectmen’s permit by 12 Nashua Road residents. MCG decided to stockpile the material on the property.

In 2003, it was reported that three lawsuits pending in Land Court would be heard as one case. One suit was filed by MCG itself after Pepperell Building Inspector Rudy Schultz refused to issue a building permit. Abutters and the town filed the others, alleging that no composting facility can be built under the current zoning bylaw.

Late in 2004, the Land Court ruled that the project is a permitted use protected from changes in local zoning laws.

Shortly afterward, then-MCG attorney Tim Courville had said MCG planned to return to the Planning Board at some point with an improved site plan that covered the bio-filters with buildings, as per Department of Environmental Protection directive.