By Seth Daniel
A smattering of residents and Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) members heard big plans on Monday night from Casella Resource Solutions to establish a trash transfer station at its property in the Bunker Hill Industrial Park that would bring 650 tons of trash every day into the Town to be unloaded and trucked out to a landfill.
Casella has already operated a recycling facility in two buildings since the 1990s, but said it is largely underutilized and the company sees a tremendous need and business opportunity for a solid waste trash transfer station. The facility would largely operate, company officials said, in the night hours and would use Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue as access points.
It would add 80 truck trips per day to what is already 140 truck trips that are brought to the recycling facility. In all, the proposal would put a total of 220 truck trips to the Casella facility for recycling and trash hauling.
“The City of Boston has very few options for taking trash at these hours,” said Brian Oliver, eastern region regional vice president for Casella. “Our belief is a lot of haulers will want to bring it here during the off hours. We’ll have to stop once we hit 650 tons in a day, as that is the permit we’re applying for. We won’t get many trucks during the bulk of the day because haulers have other options…I can’t say we won’t get deliveries during the day, but we expect most of it at off hours. There are very few options for that trash during the night. Haulers will change their routes because of this. They will do earlier pickups and night pickups. You want your haulers on the route and not stuck in traffic burning gas. You’re going to see the routes earlier in the morning because of this.”
Currently, the only transfer stations in Boston are two in Roxbury’s South Bay area. There is a moratorium right now in the City of Boston on solid waste facilities, but the City Council is considering lifting that moratorium to accommodate the Casella proposal and others.
City Councillor Sal LaMattina called for Casella to address the community and is gauging that support right now in terms of whether to lift the City’s moratorium.
State Rep. Dan Ryan said he will be paying attention to the process and hopes it will spur a larger conversation about the long-term plans for the industrial side of Rutherford Avenue.
“Casella provides a vital infrastructure service to the region,” he said. “From what I’ve seen they are pretty good at it. Expansion of any industry brings up some questions as to local impact. There is a process in place to vet those concerns. For me, Casella is an existing businesses and member of the community. For me, their expansion brings up a broader concern that nobody seems to have answers to. What is the long term plan for the industrial side of Rutherford Avenue? That side of Rutherford Avenue and much of Route 99 are major pieces of our industrial tax base. The area provides jobs, utilities and services for the regional economy. Community discussions in the past have ignored this vital piece of information. Because of this lack of vision we will soon have housing for the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents located in a truck depot. How is that going to work? What is the plan for the area? My job is to protect the current residents of Charlestown, the future residents of that housing complex and our existing businesses simultaneously. I don’t think it can be done with the Ad-Hoc planning that is symptomatic of past approaches. There is an opportunity here to start to get this right. I welcome the discussion.”
Casella officials said they have decided to propose the new business of bringing trash into the Town at the existing recycling facility because there is a huge need. Currently, they said, haulers have to go to Lynn, Braintree, Haverhill or Saugus. There is also a transfer station in Brookline too. However, with Boston growing and generating 1,000 tons of trash per day – not to mention the cities and towns surrounding Boston – existing transfer stations and solid waste facilities are overburdened.
“Right now, they’re running all over the area to facilities, so if you have a facility in Charlestown, you narrow it down and they’re not running all over the City,” said Chris Carter of Casella. “The other part of the plan is dropping at night, when there are few options. You have a building that’s underutilized. It’s a facility that’a already being used for something similar, which is recycling now.”
Those in attendance were naturally pretty skeptical. Only one man, Joe Kelly, was undoubtedly in approval of the idea.
While the largest issue was the product being brought into the Town – that being mostly other people’s trash – another key piece was the possibility of future expansion.
“What’s to say that in the future you see a huge need and apply for 1,000 tons or 1,500 tons per day?” asked CNC Councilor Amanda Reinfeld.
At this point, Casella officials are only applying for 650 tons of trash per day, but neighbors worried that due to the high demand for trash facilities, there could be an expansion in the future.
Casella officials said they couldn’t rule that out, and that 650 tons isn’t maxing out the 15,000 sq. ft. facility, but is pretty close.
“It’s too small of a footprint to really push the envelope much more,” said Oliver.
CNC Councilor Bill Galvin pointed out that there could be opportunities.
“That’s a pretty big building Costa Fruit has between your two buildings, so it might make good business sense in the future to buy that building and expand the trash operation,” he said. “We have no guarantees you won’t do that.”
Galvin said promises had been made in the 1990s that the recycling plant would only take material from Boston, but it was revealed that the recycling facility is taking material from other locales such as Cambridge, Somerville and Winchester. Many in the audience wanted another such firm commitment that Boston trash would be the only trash accepted at the facility.
Casella officials would make no such promise, but indicated they would be aggressively going after the bids – if allowed to open – of Charlestown, the North End and Somerville first and foremost. However, they said the facility would be open to haulers from all over Greater Boston.
That angered more than a few people in the audience who wondered why the Town has to pick up the trash tab for the rest of the region.
“Charlestown has come back; it’s a nice community again and now all the sudden we’re a pit for everyone else’s trash,” said one long-time resident who did not identify himself. “That’s what you’re trying to sell the Town. Why not put a facility in Brookline, Wellesley and Newton and help them save gas out there?”
Galvin noted that the Town has been burned many times on such matters, and cited the MassPort “temporary” salt pile.
“Around 15 years ago, MassPort came to us and said they had a temporary emergency to store salt on their property for three years, some 125,000 tons,” he said. “Now, 15 years later, there are 300,000 tons of salt stored there and it isn’t going anywhere. It’s ugly and unsightly and goes to cities and towns all over Greater Boston. We pay the price for that…We have done more than our fair share to support the needs of the Greater Boston region beyond Charlestown.”
One piece of the proposal that cannot be overlooked, however, is a mitigation payment of $1 per ton every year. It is estimated that Casella would bring in 200,000 tons of trash per year to the facility, so that would equal a mitigation payment of $200,000 per year to the existing community fund. Casella officials committed to that figure and said it would not be going to the City of Boston, but rather directly to Charlestown.
“That’s something that could make a difference in this,” said Galvin. “I like that very much.”
Galvin and Reinfeld said there is a CNC meeting tonight, Dec. 3, whereby there could be a preliminary vote on the proposal by the full CNC – though the proposal is in its infancy. Such a vote would likely be carefully watched by the the Boston City Council members preparing to make a vote on the lifting of the solid waste facility moratorium.
The nuts and bolts of the proposal are that the facility would operate 24 hours per day, six days a week, but would emphasize deliveries from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The current recycling facility is open from 4 a.m. to 8 p.m. only.
The additional trucks would balance out to be 55, 10-12 ton trucks coming in with trash, and 25, 20-30 ton trucks leaving for a landfill. The operation would basically dump the trash on a concrete slab in an indoor facility and then consolidate it in a larger tractor trailer below the slab for shipment. Trucks leaving with trash would utilize a tarp that covers the trash.
Trucks would not be stored on site for more than 24 hours, Casella said.
Traffic studies and odor studies will be forthcoming, and Casella officials said they have a number of hurdles to jump through before anything happens. They must get the moratorium lifted, get a variance at the City Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), apply through the state MEPA process and get a solid waste permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
They estimated any potential opening to be two or three years down the road.
“This is just a preliminary discussion,” said Oliver. “We have to go through the ZBA, MEPA and DEP so there is going to be a lot of time for people to give input.”