Tuesday, April 5, 2011
Dark clouds on the Solar Farm horizon?
Dave Keenan, a long-time thorn in town officials side, although once a town official himself, is baaaaaack.
Now he's lobbing a stink bomb into the middle of Amherst public officials picnic over turning our old abandoned landfill into a cash cow solar array farm that will produce enough renewable energy to supply all municipal needs, saving the town almost $1 million per year in electricity costs, and pay up to a couple hundred thousand dollars annually in property taxes.
Government tax incentives have stimulated these sunny public/private partnerships springing up nationwide like weeds after a summer rain. And it's not as though old landfills are good for much else.
Mr Keenan blew the whistle to his old acquaintances at the Department of Environmental Protection claiming three retired DPW workers told him about 20-30 barrels of hazardous wastes--allegedly lead based paint from UMass-- they were ordered to bury back in the 1980s.
While I cannot corroborate that particular story, I can verify first hand that hazardous materials were indeed tossed into the smelly pit. Yes, I admit it; 50 years ago my dad and I threw old paint, solvents, dirty motor oil, leftover cleaning products, insecticides, fertilizers, outdated medicines, etc. As did most of the citizens of bucolic Amherst.
To say there are hazardous wastes buried in the old landfill is like declaring there's bear dung in the woods of Maine. That's why the town spent a considerable amount to cap the site with an impermeable protective cover: to keep water from mixing with the dangerous contents and forming a hazardous cocktail that could could migrate downstream. Monitoring sites were also installed to test for that scenario and a system to handle methane gas.
But after 20 Years of fermentation the contents down under have settled causing the cap to sag in spots, allowing pools of water to form on the surface. The DEP ordered the town to fill in the depressions and regrade the site to its original aircraft carrier flatness--all without disturbing the cap of course. As you can imagine, that is a tad expensive.
Fortunately the town is in the middle of a road construction boom. The Atkins corner project, with two roundabouts coming soon, has already generated massive amounts of dirt. Only one slight problem: 6,000 tons of it is contaminated with lead arsenate, a common insecticide used on apples orchards between 1892 and the early 1970s when it was banned by the EPA.
The contractor can either spend a fortune hauling the contaminated soil to a special handling facility or bring it to the old landfill to use as fill for DEP required site remediation. Everybody saves a ton of money. The DEP approved the idea, but will require a three foot layer of non-polluted soil to cover the contaminated soil and numerous other safety precautions.
But every cloud does indeed have a silver lining. If a project--like the Bluewave Captital Solar panel farm on the old landfill--is "part of a site remediation or restoration under a Mass/DEP enforcement action/order" it is eligible for "fast track status" when negotiating the local permitting process.
And while the long-term contract with Bluewave will have to be approved by town meeting it will only require a simple majority vote, unlike a zoning change that requires two thirds.
Who says money doesn't fall from the sky? Now it will--whenever the sun is shining.
Christmas '07: After the town took Dave Keenan's humble abode for $50,000 in back taxes he camped out in his former front yard. DEP fines for ten years procrastination cleaning up an oil spill also amounted to $30,000. Mr. Keenan eventually repaid Amherst over $63,000 in back taxes and legal fees.
Business West profiles the Amherst Solar farm