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Group opposing solar project on old landfill again raises concern about worsening contamination



AMHERST — A group opposing use of a former landfill as the site for solar arrays is filing a second report with the town indicating that conditions continue to make it an unsuitable place for installing photovoltaics, arguing that the release of contaminants would be worsened by the project.

Michael Krasnik, member of the Amherst Residents for Environmental Accountability, sent an email Jan. 1 to town officials, with a 12-page report from Roux Associates LLC of Woburn attached, showing that the old landfill is leaching 1,4-dioxane, a carcinogenic contaminant.

“As a town, we should be stewards of the environment, not contributors to its demise, even if it is done with good intentions,” Krasnik wrote in his email.

The report, the second completed by Roux at the request of the group, comes shortly after interim Town Manager David Ziomek announced a power purchase agreement with solar developer SunEdison to construct a 2.8-megawatt solar array on the capped landfill on the south side of Belchertown Road. In its first year, the project would earn the town $47,500 in net-metering credits, and $41,500 in tax revenues.

The Roux report suggests that the town needs to fix the landfill in advance of any solar project.

“It is likely that installation of a solar array on the landfill, without first fully remediating the landfill, will substantially intensify the amount of contamination discharging from the landfill and pose a risk to public health, safety, and the environment,” write Roux project engineer Chase A. Gerbig and principal scientist Ian Reed.

Stephanie Ciccarello, the town’s sustainability coordinator, said in an email that town officials will examine the latest information supplied by Roux.

“We have no formal response at this time as we will need time to review the document and its assertions,” Ciccarello said.

Last fall, the town responded point by point to the initial report prepared by Roux.

Ziomek said previously any solar arrays would be installed in a safe manner and that a number of safeguards are in place, including review by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, which would not allow a capped landfill to be compromised for a green-energy project.

Though Krasnik has presented information from Roux to Town Meeting in November, members overwhelmingly authorized Ziomek to enter into a contract with SunEdison for use of the capped landfill on the north side of Belchertown Road, next to the town’s transfer station. In 2011, Town Meeting, by similarly wide margins, gave the town manager authority for signing long-term deals for use of the older landfill site.

The old landfill is where the late Town Manager John Musante first proposed a 4.75-megawatt project with BlueWave Capital in 2011, a project that led neighbors to file a lawsuit that stopped the development — even though the suit ultimately was dismissed earlier this year.

Ziomek said the SunEdison project will use a smaller area on the old landfill, and ensures 400-foot setbacks from any homes. He said the project will address concerns regarding views of the panels from neighboring backyards, noise and protecting hiking trails. Ciccarello also is regularly meeting with neighbors to address any issues that develop.

Roux continues to report in its studies that the landfill does not have a sufficient clay cap: “As demonstrated in Roux Associates’ initial technical memorandum, the final design thickness of the landfill cap, 6 inches, while technically approved by MassDEP in 1985, was substantially less than the thickness originally required by MassDEP at the time of closure, 12 inches.”

There also has been what it terms “significant contamination” that shows the landfill cap is not effective in its existing state. “The presence of landfill leachate impacts down gradient of the landfill indicates that the landfill cap, in its current condition, is not effectively preventing infiltration of contaminants into the groundwater,” Gerbig and Reed wrote.

Krasnik said in his email that neighbors might be more willing to support the project if a new cap is installed.

“We urge the town to reconsider the ill-conceived decision of placing a large solar array on top of the inadequately closed and deteriorating old Amherst landfill, and start remediating the consequences of the ill-fated 40-year-old decision to reduce the thickness of the landfill cap.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.