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Granby, Belchertown residents battle gun club’s ‘biosludge’ plans

  • The Granby Bow and Gun Club on Chicopee Street in Granby. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • The Granby Bow and Gun Club is looking to revegetate a part of its property after it was fined by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for bulldozing a seasonal stream. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • The Granby Bow and Gun Club is looking to revegetate a part of its property after it was fined by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for bulldozing a seasonal stream. SUBMITTED PHOTO



Staff Writer
Sunday, June 24, 2018

GRANBY — To fight the proposed use of an artificial topsoil on the grounds of the Granby Bow and Gun Club, a group of concerned citizens is working to get the Board of Health to ban the application of “Biomix” and similar substances townwide.

The manufactured topsoil would be a mixture of Biomix and FiberClay, two products made by Casella Waste Inc., consisting of processed sewage waste, compost and processed paper fiber waste. Advertised as a “cost-effective” way to revegetate the land and prevent erosion, the exact composition of Biomix is difficult to determine, as the makeup of recycled sewage waste and compost is not consistent.

Casella Organics, a branch of Casella Waste, plans to apply the mixture free of charge on gun club property, according to the club’s attorney, Justin Raphaelson. The proposal, outlined in a May 5, 2017, notice of intent prepared by SWCA Environmental Consultants, says 11 acres of the mixture will be spread, including the installation of a stone-lined waterway through the reseeded area to replace a bulldozed stream.

“Maintenance work within the 100-foot buffer zone will consist of the re-vegetation of the buffer zone (which was previously disturbed), vegetation management, previous placement of targets, and mowing after Casella Organics (Casella) applies its Biomix,” read the report prepared by SWCA.

The consultants noted that one target was situated in a wetland.

A representative from Casella Organics, James Talvy, presented the Conservation Commission with a product information sheet on FiberClay at a June 13, 2017, meeting. Made with recycled wastewater from the Erving Paper Mill, sewage, “biological sludges” and food processing waste, the product claims to be “suitable for recycling by land application” and “non-hazardous.”

However, the same information sheet says the mixture contains pathogens, has a strong odor requiring ventilation in enclosed spaces and recommends keeping it away from deposition in water bodies. Present in the manufactured topsoil are trace amounts of regulated metals like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury and lead.

The Granby Bow and Gun Club wants to use the mixture because it is required by law to restore a wetlands area illegally altered to make way for the club’s 1,015-yard rifle range, advertised as the largest of its kind in New England.

Wetlands violation

In 2014, the state Department of Environmental Protection discovered that the Granby Bow and Gun Club had placed fill in a wetlands area and impacted other wetland resource areas, according to Catherine Skiba, the service center manager for the MassDEP western regional office. The violation occurred when the club altered vegetation within 100 feet of a hydrologic resource — in this case, bulldozing over an intermittent stream running through the property. Now, a berm serving as a backstop for bullets on the club’s longest targets blocks the seasonal stream.

MassDEP issued an administrative consent order with penalty on June 5, 2015, and the club paid a fine of several hundred dollars and agreed to re-vegetate the wetland area. To fix the violation, the club plans to use the Casella Organics mixture to quickly establish erosion-resistant soil.

“Because (the club) screwed up they want to cover up their mistakes and bring in a product that would have a detrimental effect on our water supply,” said Elaine Lafleur, a Granby resident and leader of the Granby Belchertown Concerned Citizens Group. “And that’s my fight.”

Last year, Lafleur helped form the citizens group after deciding she had to do something to protect the quality of life for herself and her neighbors. Not only had noise from the range become unbearable for some, but the documented wetlands violations and the prospect of Biomix made it an urgent issue with long-term consequences.

“The impact of what that can do to our environment in general, our water supply, is scary,” Lafleur said. “The impact is much larger than what people realize because of the runoff from streams and aquifers into other communities.”

Lafleur said she spends about 20 hours per week attending meetings, responding to emails and conducting research for the citizens group. She has now collected over 175 signatures from Granby residents to present to the Board of Health on Tuesday night in favor of regulation that would prevent the application of Biomix, or “biosludge” as the group has taken to calling it.

“There’s been all these words about it being called ‘biosludge’ and that’s a very inaccurate way to describe this,” Raphaelson, the club’s attorney, said. “Basically, what this Biomix is, is this seeding program that the club wants to implement on their property, because these shooters are not only sportsmen, they are conservationists and they want to maintain the landscape as well.”

While Raphaelson said the mixture has been approved by MassDEP, state officials disagree.

“MassDEP has not received an application for a permit to use Biomix at the Granby Rod and Gun Club,” Skiba wrote in an email. “The use of any biosolids in soil amendment or ‘manufactured soil,’ which may be marketed under a variety of names, requires a permit from MassDEP.”

Advice on toxins

The citizens group reached out to the Toxics Action Center, a nonprofit public health and environmental organization that helps research potential health risks and organize communities in the Northeast against the use of substances harmful to public health.

“Some cities have successfully passed ordinances,” said Mary Jones, a community organizer for the western Massachusetts and Connecticut Toxics Action Center. “We know it’s possible and we know it’s only possible when a community gets organized.”

The Toxics Action Center cautions against letting a cheap fix become a permanent problem for the community.

“In a lot of communities we’ve worked with landowners who are attracted to this because it’s the cheapest,” Jones said.

In a May 10 letter to Granby’s town offices, gun club president Andre Mercier welcomed others to learn more about Biomix, which he said the Conservation Commission had already approved.

“We are happy to educate those interested, especially the Health Department, with facts, not conjecture and speculation, regarding the safety and benefits of the product used in this seeding program,” Mercier wrote.

Casella Waste Systems Inc. is a Vermont waste management company run by brothers John and Doug Casella. They offer dozens of recycled soil products, made from compost, sewage, paper mill byproducts and other waste products. According to the company’s website, Biomix has been used on over 100 construction sites since 1990.

The company did not answer a request for comment.

Last August, the town of Granby suspended deliveries of Biomix to the club pending review of the substance in response to residents’ concerns. Granby Board of Health decided on Feb. 22, 2018, that any manufactured topsoil would require the board’s approval.

“In Massachusetts we’re lucky that our boards of health have a lot of power,” Jones said. “If they have a reason to believe the public health is in danger, they have an opportunity to act.”

Town Administrator Christopher Martin did not respond to multiple calls for comment for this story.

“I may not be alive to see it get to that point, but I rely on well water, my neighbors do, and I rely on my septic and I take care of it,” Lafleur said.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.