The Southbridge Recycling and Disposal Park landfill will pay nearly $220,000 to settle claims that improper maintenance and monitoring of a large soil stockpile caused a landslide that damaged adjacent wetlands, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today.
The complaint, filed in Suffolk Superior Court with the consent judgment, alleges that a portion of the stockpile became unstable and caused a landslide in August 2013, which inundated the banks of a stream in Charlton with up to a foot of sediment and covered more than half an acre of vegetated wetlands with mud and silt, ranging from a fine coating to a half foot of muck.
“Wetland areas are very important environmental resources and must be safeguarded,” AG Coakley said. “Our office will hold accountable those who fail to comply with state laws and regulations designed to protect these valuable resources which benefit the environment in so many ways.”
According to the complaint, the stockpiled soil had been excavated during landfill expansion work. The soil landslide harmed the wetlands, impairing their ability to protect groundwater, prevent and mitigate flooding and provide habitat for wildlife.
“Conventional erosion controls on large sites will often fail during adverse weather. So developers must invest in comprehensive drainage and erosion controls at the onset of the project to prevent off-site discharges of silt and soils to wetlands and streams,” said Commissioner David W. Cash of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). “If soils and silt are discharged to wetland resources, the cost of remediating the damage generally far outweighs the cost of preventing it.”
The complaint alleges that the defendants, Southbridge Recycling and Disposal Park, Inc. (SRDP), and its parent corporation, Casella Waste Systems, Inc., violated the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and Solid Waste Management Act by failing to adequately implement and maintain the soil stockpile’s stability and erosion controls. SRDP allegedly did not immediately take action to stabilize the stockpile, waited for 10 days to report erosion and stability problems, and failed to mention the massive landslide when discussing other matters with MassDEP.
After reporting the violations to MassDEP, the defendants promptly hired consultants and began implementing stockpile stabilization and wetlands restoration work plans. The defendants will continue to monitor the wetlands areas damaged by the landslide to assure proper restoration.
Under the terms of the settlement, SRDP and Casella will pay a $200,000 civil penalty, $50,000 of which will be waived if MassDEP determines that all required stabilization and restoration work was properly and timely completed. As part of the settlement, SRDP will also spend nearly $20,000 on a supplemental environmental project by purchasing water testing and plotting equipment for Charlton, to be used by the town’s Water Department and Conservation Commission, as well as by the Central Massachusetts Regional Storm Water Coalition. This equipment measures, records, and maps water and waterway resource data to help with storm water control, watershed management, and wetlands protection.
The case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Ireland of AG Coakley’s Environmental Protection Division, with assistance from Mary Jude Pigsley, MassDEP Chief Regional Counsel, Philip Nadeau, MassDEP Wetlands and Waterways Regional Section Chief, and Maryann DiPinto and Marielle Stone, all of MassDEP’s Central Regional Office in Worcester.