NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

May 22, 2013

Crow Lane woes get new tactic

BY DYKE HENDRICKSON
STAFF WRITER

---- — NEWBURYPORT — Efforts to close the troubled Crow Lane landfill appear to have entered a revitalized phase this week, as municipal leaders and state officials agreed to pursue a new initiative for closure that could involve seeking state funds dedicated to “orphan sites.”

City leaders Monday met with Kenneth Kimmel, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, and other state officials.

The session represented an attempt to design tactics to force New Ventures Associates LLC, which owns the private landfill, to follow state-mandated procedures to close the site and complete obligations related to environmental safeguards.

It also involved discussions of finding new sources of funding to help pay for closure.

“Commissioner Kimmel shares my frustration at the difficulty in closing out this beast,” said Mayor Donna Holaday yesterday. “But local and state officials are working together on this.”

The landfill was purchased in 2000 by New Ventures with the plan of closing it by heaping tons of demolition debris on top and capping it. Since then, city officials have been working with the state to get to the point of closure.

For years, residents living in proximity of the landfill (located off Low Street) have suffered from episodes of nausea, sinus problems, headaches and itchy, watery eyes due to the odors from debris dumped in the landfill.

Owners of New Ventures, which has declared bankruptcy, did not attend Monday’s session, and have not responded to requests for comment.

One development that has troubled city officials is the diminishing size of a one-time $2.7 million Financial Assurance Mechanism (FAM) fund. This fund was created as a result of a state requirement in the contract with New Ventures that calls for company cash to be put toward the capping and post-closure maintenance.

This fund has diminished to about $90,000, according to state and city leaders.

Holaday and state Rep. Mike Costello, D-Newburyport, who also attended the session at DEP, say they will seek state funding to close the landfill.

“The DEP has money to close what are known as orphan sites,” said Costello yesterday. “Such funds target areas where the owner has walked away.

“This fund is finite — there’s only so much money. But we are going to be lobbying actively to be included in this fund or the general fund, to come up with enough money to close the site - and monitor it for years after.”

Holaday added that legal assistance from the state will also be sought.

She said that an attorney who had been with the Conservation Law Foundation recently has joined the staff of the state Attorney General, and Holaday said she expecting to get legal support from this office in coming weeks.

Last week, several residents notified city officials of odors coming from the Crow Lane facility. Complaints have been frequent in recent years.

City officials, including Robert F. Bracey, director of public health, responded to the concern. Upon getting complaints from residents, the city health department contacted the DEP.

DEP officials said that as a result of the city’s action, DEP directed New Ventures to the site. Company workers made appropriate repairs, and city health officials were able to report that the odor disappeared later in the day.

State Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, the former city councilor whose district includes Newburyport, said she will be meeting with Kimmel next week.

“I wasn’t able to attend the (Monday) meeting because of budget responsibilities,” said O’Connor Ives. “But I have a meeting with Secretary Kimmel on the books and he has been responsive to my office as we seek solutions.

“The city doesn’t deserve related liability that New Ventures, now bankrupt, is responsible for. My goal is for the DEP to partner with the city to find solutions so that Newburyport is not left responsible.”