Asserting their right to sell out to economic interests, a group of Southbridge residents staged a protest outside State offices on Friday.
Members of the group calling itself Casella Residents Accepting Pollutants said that their status as an environmental justice community is a two-sided coin.
“What people fail to realize is that in order to assure environmental protection for most people requires the relentless exploitation of a few,” said group spokesperson Didi Clemens. “It is the right of a community to sacrifice its long-term well-being for short term gains. The people of Southbridge have done this for years and have honed it to a fine art.”
Clemens pointed to the community’s history of becoming a haven for social misfits and the economically dependent. “Clearly society needs someplace to house the welfare cases, the drug dependent, the alcohol abusers, the sexual deviants and the uneducable. Our town serves that need.”
She pointed to the fact that Southbridge was home to numerous social welfare programs while a large number of its public officials lived outside the town. The current issue of a state takeover of the school system was just one more example of how Southbridge has succeeded in making itself a virtual ward of the state.
The current clash with Charlton over the expansion of the town’s landfill was just one more example of this strategy.
“There is an occasional case where our status as an ‘environmental justice’ location will negatively impact a few complainers outside the community. This is the case with the few residents of other towns who have been inconvenienced by having their wells rendered unpotable. What these critics fail to realize is that others bear similar costs. Look at those who are victims of the crimes perpetrated by our drug addicts and level 3 sex offenders or those who suffer the consequences of our drunken drivers. They are the minor consequences of Southbridge providing a valuable public good.”
She went on to maintain that the town has not turned a blind eye to these external diseconomies. “Take a look at what Harrington Hospital has done with the creation of a cancer center that will cater to some of those who are the unfortunate casualties of this proposed landfill expansion. Then there is the financial gain to those communities who take our more affluent students for whom our school system is inadequate.”
A member of the local Board of Health elaborated. “There is also a small group of local residents who benefit from these decisions. There are those who work for the town in sinecures whose positions would cease to exist without the revenue from Casella. Just as the Commonwealth requires the exploitation of a few communities for the benefit of the larger society, so within the town there is a small elite who benefit from the exploitation of most residents.”
A member of the town council summed it up this way, “Look, once we provided employment to a large number of people outside of Southbridge. With the decline of those businesses we turned our sights to becoming a dumping ground for many of society’s inescapable problems. Our top tier of citizens has benefitted from this decision and it has provided a guide to Southbridge’s future as we celebrate entering our third century with our bicentennial.”