, Newburyport, MA

September 24, 2009

Behind the stink; Documentary outlines Newburyport landfill saga

Behind the stink: Newburyport landfill saga hits the screen

By Katie Farrell Lovett

For some Newburyporters, the story of the Crow Lane landfill is a way of life. They live it every day.

But for others, the vast history of the ongoing saga is unclear.

It's those looking to gain an education who may benefit most from Mary Godfrey's new film, "Dumping Billy: The Story of the Crow Lane Landfill," which she will premiere Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at the Firehouse Center for the Arts as part of the Newburyport Documentary Film Festival.

The film is not an "activist piece," Godfrey says.

"The film covers the story of the Crow Lane landfill up until November 2008, when I stopped filming," she says. "It is not an exposé on (owner-operator) New Ventures. People can expect a very reserved piece."

Although Godfrey, 32, grew up in Newburyport, it was on the other side of the city from the landfill, which New Ventures, owned by William Thibeault, has operated since 2000. But a graduate school assignment brought her up close with the landfill.

A student at New York University's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, specializing in news and documentary, Godfrey was required to compile a 20-minute "short" documentary as a final project in a broadcast journalism class.

She initially hoped to do a different environmental piece. But when that idea didn't pan out, a neighbor suggested the Crow Lane landfill as a subject matter.

The landfill has been an issue in Newburyport for more than a half decade. New Ventures purchased it in 2000 to cap it, but for years, neighbors surrounding the landfill have dealt with the smells of rotten eggs and burnt matches produced from the decomposing gypsum at the site as it sits uncapped. The city, state and New Ventures have engaged in ongoing legal battles relating to the closing — a fight that has included many fines and shutdowns of the site.

Last spring, Mayor John Moak and Health Director Jack Morris issued an administrative order, prompting the capping to begin again. City officials hope it will be closed this fall.

For the film, which she shot between July and November 2008, Godfrey interviewed neighbors and those in the city affected by the landfill. She attempted to interview representatives of both the state's Department of Environmental Protection and New Ventures, but both declined since the matter was in litigation at the time.

"To me, it was a new way in which to tell a story that everyone's been reading about for the past several years," Godfrey says.

Those who have been following the story won't learn any new information, but will see the subject presented in a new medium, she adds.

"It really covers the main points," she said.