NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 17, 2013

Board ordered to rehear petition

ZBA had denied Smartfuel request to relocate to aquifer zone

BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
STAFF WRITER

---- — SEABROOK —The Zoning Board of Adjustment will again hold a hearing to determine if a local company can produce what’s considered clean diesel fuel within the town’s aquifer protection zone, after a court ordered the board to rehear the petition.

After leaving Massachusetts, Smartfuel of America moved to Folly Mill Road in Seabrook in 2008, when it was seen by many in town as a job creator and a “green” company. Smartfuel collects used vegetable oil from restaurants and food processors, then processes it into an alternative energy source.

Known as biofuel, the product can be burned as a cleaner type of heating oil and even as fuel for vehicles that use biodiesel.

But the company’s intent to move to Batchelder Road, near Route 107, has caused some new concerns lately as the location is at the eastern tip of the town’s aquifer protection zone. To complete its move in accordance with town regulations, Smartzone needs a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustments.

Early last year, the company made its first application to the ZBA, requesting a variance “to operate while storing hazardous materials within the aquifer protection zone.”

But due to testimony provided by others at the hearing and concern by ZBA members for the health of the aquifer, Smartfuel’s request was denied. The board also denied the company’s request for a rehearing, a move that sent Smartfuel to Rockingham Superior Court for appeal.

The court ordered the ZBA to rehear the case, which will happen at their meeting on June 26. But it also opens up the controversy concerning the greenness of the company, as it relates to possible pollution of the aquifer, which is the source of the town’s drinking water.

Seabrook Conservation Commission Chairwoman Susan Foote said Smartfuel came before the commission and received their approval to make the move. Foote said after reviewing the precautions the company was taking, commissioners felt it would not be a danger. Foote said although methanol will be used in Smartfuel’s production process, the company’s containment precautions are sufficient to ensure spills won’t get to the aquifer.

In addition, Foote said, the state Department of Environmental Services hasn’t objected to Smartfuel’s move to its new location.

In a Jan. 11, 2012, letter written to Smartfuel after an onsite inspection by DES, the state agency recommended some additions to the leak prevention process at the site, such as an exterior roof and spill collection devices at its outside storage areas, and storage containers be placed on “intact impervious surfaces,” advising all cracks be sealed.

In a letter to the company, DES wrote that “any potential contamination source located within a WHPA that stores or uses regulated substances must follow Best Management Practices. Based on the site visit, NHDES understands that no regulated substances will be used in making the biodiesel that Smartfuel will produce.”

At its Febrary 2012 meeting, in spite of DES remarks, Seabrook’s ZBA denied the variance.

However, at least one abutter objects to Smartfuel’s relocation and is urging residents to speak up at the ZBA hearing. In a letter to the Daily News, Lisa Mushow writes that she fears the methanol that will be used in the biofuel production process and stored on property. “I resent the idea that (Smartfuel) is presenting their proposal as ‘green’ and ‘safe,” Batchelder Street resident Mushow wrote. “Methanol is considered a hazardous substance. The effects of being exposed to methanol are dangerous and permanent.”

Although comment for this article were sought from Mushow and officials from Smartfuel, calls were not returned.