Local residents and state reps stand against toxic dirt

Public information forum on proposed soil reclamation reveals more problems

April Healey of the Pepperell Watchers Group during a community forum on a proposed soil reclamation project.

PEPPERELL – Multiple state representatives, local officials and an auditorium full of residents voiced unified disdain towards the proposed use of a landfill at 161 Nashua Road on Monday night.

The stage for said sour feelings was at the Nissitissit Middle School, where the Pepperell Watchers Group hosted a public information forum on Mass Composting Group Inc.’s plans to dump over three-million-cubic yards of discarded soil into the lot.

Town of Pepperell is currently in Massachusetts Land Court over an appeal made in Feb. against a decision made by the Zoning Board of Appeals in Jan. to overturn a determination made by Building Inspector Robert Kelly last year. The town further voiced its rejection to the proposal by sending a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Monday’s forum was lead by the community group that originally opposed the proposal and brought in a plethora of guests. The event featured six speakers each covering separate parts of the proposal.

Martha Morgan of the Nashua River Watershed Association covered the proposal’s potential impact to nearby water wells, groundwater flow and pollution to the recent addition to the National Wild and Scenic River System.

“We were once considered once of the 10 most polluted rivers, I think we all remember that,” Morgan said. “We didn’t come to this position lightly, we really feel this project is inappropriate.”

The concerns of toxicity were highlighted by Jack Howard, another member of the speaker panel who noted how discarded soil can contain hazardous elements including Chromium 6, lead, mercury and others. Howard noted that if the discarded soil does in fact contaminate neighboring public water wells, Pepperell residents would likely only have access to 49 percent of its public water supply. He also noted how the proposed height of the filled-in lot will be 299.5 feet, 30 feet higher than the elevation of the original site.

“This impacts all of us in different ways,” he said. “Somebody else will be making money but we’ll be paying the price.”

For more concrete evidence of a soil reclamation project, Susan Franz of the Uxbridge Board of Selectmen recapped her town’s experience handling soil dumping at two sites starting back in 2014. According to Franz, the plan was to dump contaminated soil on sites that were both located over the high-yield Blackstone aquifer and near homes with private water wells. Franz also noted how three loads of contaminated soil came from the construction site of the newly-opened Encore Boston Harbor Casino.

Between Mar. and Jun. of 2016, local health and state inspectors were denied access to one of the sites and even a Cease and Desist order from the local Health Department was blocked by the Town Manager at the time. The operator of one of the sites even sued 22 people, including 11 of Uxbridge’s town official and nine private residents (Franz included). Cease and Desist orders were soon issued to both sites by Feb. 2017 and by Apr. of that year, the local Board of Health learned from the DEP that samples of the soil had not been tested to the level required by state law. As of this month, the project is currently halted by a preliminary injunction in Land Court.

“Municipalities should examine their bylaws in the face of aggressive operators,” Franz said.

Selectman Margaret Scarsdale noted how Pepperell and Uxbridge are not alone in dealing with faulty soil reclamation projects permitted by the DEP via Administrative Consent Orders. Other towns with ACO-backed reclamation projects include Rutland, Dudley, Carver, Bridgewater, Saugus and Groveland.

Scarsdale said that all of the projects in the aforementioned towns had operators who either failed to properly perform monthly inspections of the soil or failed to submit inspection reports.

Other attendees were a few New Hampshire state officials, including Senator Melanie Levesque of New Hampshire’s District 12.

“I’m surprised that with all these late inspections and reports, there are no teeth to these results,” she said during the Q&A portion of the forum.

Scarsdale encouraged the attending audience looking to make their voices against the project heard to call local elected officials and talk to neighbors curious about the project as well. As further motivation, Franz recited a line from a fortune cookie she had gotten at a local Chinese restaurant before the meeting.

“A great pleasure in life is doing what others say you can’t.”