SALISBURY — A smelly problem tinged with a bit of local politics appears to be coming to an end for residents of Ferry Lots Lane who have endured the nasty odor of rotting clamshells illegally dumped there for quite some time.
Health Agent Jack Morris told Board of Health members this week that those involved have stopped the illegal dumping and have promised to clean up the mess by Oct. 16. If not, Morris has the option of filing criminal charges that could result in tens of thousands of dollars in fines for the breaking of state and local health and dumping codes.
Morris’ report came after months of complaints led to investigations, discussions and the issuance of cease and desist orders after one of the responsible parties was caught in the act dumping shells on a private lot on Ferry Lots Lane on July 20. But the problem of clam processing houses illegally dumping fresh clamshells on other Ferry Lots Lane land goes back years, according to many.
The issue came to a head after members of the Salisbury Historical Commission signed and filed a complaint and a petition about the odorous problem with the Board of Health in March.
According to the complaint signed by commission member Beverly Gulazian, the daily dumping of freshly shucked clamshells at the end of Ferry Lots Lane caused a stench on a road she considers one of Salisbury’s historic paths.
“We the members of the Salisbury Historical Commission are concerned over the health conditions that prevail on a historic road of our town,” the petitioners wrote. “After walking the road from Mudnock Road all the way to the Merrimac(k) River on Ferry Lots Lane, we found clamshells and other debris, including deer carcasses, which are attracting coyotes along that road, where these deposits are on a public way.”
The petition also stated the “unbelievable” stench caused unhealthy conditions that needed to be addressed to protect the health and safety of those who lived on and walked along the roadway.
Morris said there could be any number of clam processing companies in the area that could have been dumping shucked clamshells at the site. He approached Town Manager Neil Harrington concerning the petition. Since one of the companies processing clams in town belongs to the son of a Selectman Ed Hunt Sr., Harrington tried to handle the situation diplomatically, Morris told the Board of Health Tuesday night.
However, the dumping continued. In July, the petition was filed again at Town Hall, this time signed by 16 residents, most of whom either live or own property on Ferry Lots Lane.
To help Morris gather evidence, area residents shared the schedule of when the dumping customarily occurred. A tip from a resident on July 20 resulted in town inspectors catching a truck driver sent to dump eight barrels of shells by his employer, Edwin Hunt Jr., who owns and operates Hunt’s Shellfish.
When first approached, Hunt Jr. said Harold Congdon gave his company permission to dump the shells on his property on Ferry Lots Lane. Although Congdon claimed he had a letter from the state Department of Environmental Protection giving him permission for the dumping, Morris said he was never able to produce the correspondence. In addition, Morris said the dumping was a clear violation of town and state regulations.
“I went down there, the smell was awful,” Morris said. “Let’s be clear: This is rotting biological matter. It’s the illegal dumping of solid waste. It you want to accept this kind of solid waste on your property, you need to get a site assessment from the Board of Health.”
On July 26 and 27, enforcement orders were sent to Hunt Jr. and Congdon, telling them to cease the activity and to develop a plan to clean up the piles of shells on the property.
“Ed Hunt Jr. stopped immediately and proposed a viable clean-up plan, but he wasn’t allowed access to the property,” Morris said. “On Tuesday, Oct. 2, I met with Harold (Congdon), and he’s agreed to clean up the piles by Oct. 16. If not, then I’ll bring the situation back to the Board of Health and we may pursue criminal charges.”
Those criminal charges aren’t minor. In addition to breaking town ordinances that carry fines, the actions violate state laws surrounding the creation of a health nuisance, carrying a fine of $1,000 a day, and creating an illegal dumping ground, carrying a fine of $25,000 a day.
Morris said although Hunt Jr. is taking the brunt of the responsibility, he believes there are other businesses that may have been involved in the illegal dumping over the years. However, Morris added, since Hunt Jr. was cited, all the illegal dumping has stopped.
Morris said another concern underlying the issue, and many other healthy or safety code enforcement concerns arising daily in Salisbury, is the argument from residents and businesses in town that they have never had to follow certain state or local laws or regulations in the past.
“I’m so tired of hearing the old adage, `We never had to do this before,’” Morris said. “The state’s solid waste laws have been around since 1980. We’re in the code enforcement business, and I treat everyone the same.”