Friday, June 19, 2015

Councilor Steeves Speaks Out On Casella Amendment

Today’s Southbridge News carries an article by Town Councilor Gus Steeves expressing his views on the proposed amendment to the Casella contract.

A ‘First Amendment’ we should not invoke
by Gus Steeves

“The devil’s in the details” is a common cliché, but in some documents, it’s really an understatement.

Multiple demons jump out of the newly proposed “First Amendment” to the landfill site assignment, which is currently being considered by the Council. General Government talked about it Wednesday and I expect it to be on Monday’s full council agenda, but both were after this column’s deadline. 

On the surface, this agreement, if approved, would lead to Southbridge Recycling and Disposal Park, Inc. (SRD, better known as Casella) paying for the construction of a sewer line extension and leachate pre-treatment plant, a project estimated at $2.5 million, but for which the document’s $180,000 annual payments come to $3.6 million. Sounds good, right?

Not so fast. Strictly from a short-term point of view, the payments look good. But the $180,000 sum is not indexed for inflation, meaning it will fall in actual value over time. If the next 20 years follow the same pattern as the last 20 did, that amount in 2035 will have lost more than a third of its purchasing power, according to www.

Worse, the details seem to essentially blackmail the town into supporting the landfill’s larger expansion, something most of us oppose. That $180,000 is a “fixed” fee split by percentage between the two building projects, but Section 1j enables Casella to claw back any payments for the sewer portion “[i]n the event that SRD does not receive all necessary permits and approvals (including any site assignments) required to construct all of the additional landfill capacity in the Additional Areas.” It does state, though, that Casella is still required to pay the leachate plant portion despite permit delays or rejection. Section 1e contradicts that, however, stating the entire “Annual Infrastructure Fee” (the $180,000) payments last 20 years if the landfill’s life runs out by Casella’s timeline (estimated at 11 years in the recent Environmental Notification Form, but obviously they’d want to keep something going beyond that), but “shall not survive the earlier termination of this Extension Agreement.”

To me, the all-or-nothing phrasing bodes ill for the town. There should be a clause by which Casella pays some of the sewer fee if it gets some of the added acreage, since it will still conduct business for a while beyond the current mid-2017 filing deadline. Furthermore, the “additional areas” are rather ill-defined: The amendment lists the “airport triangle,” a small parcel surrounded by the landfill and the “Tower Hill” land, but maps and text in their ENF clearly depict using land in Charlton and the McKinstry parcel. The latter would legally be a whole new landfill, if it happens, but it violates town zoning: Nothing allows landfills except by special permit, and Casella would have to prove doing it “will not tend to impair the status of the neighborhood.” I bet Rosemeade residents would find their neighborhood “impaired” by the constant activity of a new, big trash hill.

Combined, the phrasing seems to put Southbridge on the hook for any permits denied by Charlton, the state or federal agencies. At least three of them are outside Southbridge’s control: Charlton will hold its own site assignment process at some point. The FAA requires a “minimum separation” of 5,000 feet between a new landfill and “airports serving piston-powered aircraft;” the McKinstry parcel is far less distant than that. DEP has to review the site for “suitability” and determine if a landfill there can “operate in a manner of minimal detriment to the environment.”

Do we want to play Russian roulette with those odds?

Obviously, any one of those could end the Extension Agreement early – something that would not be an issue had our Board of Health denied the tonnage increase in 2008. A challenge in that vein could come quickly, since I’d imagine building a treatment plant up there would require site assignment in itself as a major change to the landfill, even without further expansion. It would be open to “third-party” users – in short, outside trucks would bring untreated leachate to our town. The text doesn’t indicate how big it would be, but gives Casella “priority” over any third parties and requires the town to pay Casella an unstated per-gallon fee for such third-party use, despite indicating that Southbridge would own the facility.

This proposal feels like an attempt to stack the deck in upcoming site assignment and other hearings such that the ka-ching of the cash drowns out our community’s other genuine long-term interests. There’s already too much of a belief among some in town that we “can’t get rid of Casella” because of the millions we get from them, but that’s the same ideology as the heroin addict saying he can’t kick his habit because it feels too good. In both cases, the addiction has short-term apparent benefits but long-term harm, while breaking the addiction poses short-term withdrawal pain for long-term health, freedom of action, clearer decision-making and sanity.


  1. It troubles me that our por town has become Casella's personal piggy bank. We may not have Monet, but that us OK because we are borrowing money for them through the bonding process.

    We can not bond to buy the McKibstry Farm, can not bond to raise essential one time expenses for the schools and for projects like fixing our roads and bridges BUT we have the money for Casella???

    Even worse, this half or third of the way treated leachate is headed to our NEW ( just approved LAST week) sewer equipment, where it will cause havoc upon the steel parts and the pipes on the way.

    And there is the health costs as well.

    And you thought the fragrance of the Big Y neighborhood was bad before???

    Well done Mr. Steeves.

  2. The landfill has had no positive impact on the town. Let the existing agreement expire and let's call it a day. I'd also urge the council to take away the authority of the town manager to act as an agent for the town when dealing with Casella. That authority was abused in the past and I expect it to abused in the future.

    1. Stephanie DeMartinoJune 20, 2015 at 2:50 PM

      I agree with Rich Logan. This current TM is very persuasive and that is not always a good thing. Gus, you and I are on the same page. There is no risk analysis being conducted for this latest deal and in short Russian Roulette is being played. That's too much of a gamble for everyone living here.

  3. so they are planning on accepting this leachate from other towns also? so let's ask this.....what if one of the trucks filled with this toxic liquid crashes either on Rt. 169 or on Commercial Drive? It's like will be in the soil long before it can be contained

  4. I do not support the amendment as written since it includes an expansion of the landfill. I have put both the amendment online as well as the Town Manager's Highlights.


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