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Christine Archambault: South Hadley must wake up to landfill’s pernicious impact

I have spent many hours at the western Massachusetts office of the Department of Environmental Protection in Springfield, poring over thousands of pages of documents, investing my own money in copies of maps, documents and letters regarding the South Hadley landfill.

Taxpayers of South Hadley may not be aware of how the town’s landfill is operated by a private waste company. But they should, because it will affect the future of the town.

Less than 3 percent of what some call “trash mountain” is South Hadley’s own trash. Most comes here from other towns, cities and states.

Most of it isn’t even trash. Though it’s supposed to be a municipal solid waste (MSW) dump, the waste companies, against state regulations, have filled it with waste that is banned (that is, recyclable) material that should have been diverted to recycling and composting businesses, and huge amounts of “cover material,” such as contaminated soil and the remains of auto shredding.

Between 5,000 and 10,000 tons of waste is dumped in our landfill each month. Each load of waste that arrives is compressed to 3 feet in depth. At the end of the day, the trash is covered with 6 inches of cover material — but no more than is necessary to protect from wind and gulls.

The operators are permitted to take in 156,000 tons of trash per year, but last year the dump accepted more “daily cover” material than trash: 108,613 tons of municipal solid waste plus 163,622 tons of “cover material.”

The landfill is paid for accepting all this cover material, but it does not count toward its permitted amount of trash. Therefore, for financial reasons, the operators have filled our landfill with contaminated soil and other cover materials, plus recyclables that are banned from disposal.

And in doing so, they caused the release of odors, created dust, exhaust and noise, attracted rats and took up the time and attention of town boards.

In addition, they conducted an experiment by building berms on top of the waste — which produced two cracks, one 20 feet long.

Our town will have to cope with future problems with the landfill, as gas and leachate systems and liners deteriorate.

It is my hope the people of South Hadley will understand the negative impact the landfill has on our town. Consider the numerous citations by the DEP for operational deficiencies at the landfill, including taking in waste without a permit, hundreds of odor complaints, failure to cover the trash at the end of the day and dumping tons of recyclable material.

This should not be tolerated. The money the town is supposedly making on the landfill is negligible considering the long-term implications of the mountains of trash that will be left in perpetuity. There are few towns in Massachusetts that have a landfill and they all have to find ways to get rid of their trash. Why should South Hadley be the dumping ground for these towns and states?

It is time to take back our land and think of long-term solutions, such as waste reduction, rather than perpetuating a long-term problem.

Christine Archambault lives in South Hadley.

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