, Salem, MA

February 1, 2014

Column: Answering environmental misinformation

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

Among those who seek to defeat the Brimbal Avenue/Route 128 referendum, a great deal of misinformation has been circulated about the environmental conditions of the land owned by my firm. I believe that the public interest would be served by a straight, clear presentation of the facts.

The land in question is part of a municipal landfill that was closed 50 years ago. It contains primarily glass, brick, construction debris, paper, wood and pottery shards, as well as ash from old burning operations. It was never used for industrial waste.

Under the careful supervision of the state Department of Environment Protection (DEP), the former landfill has been extensively studied and tested over the past nine years. It is very well understood. As a result of this exhaustive investigation, the key site assessment study concluded that the landfill poses “no significant risk to the public health, safety, welfare, and/or, the environment.”

Based on these extensive studies, DEP ultimately concluded that there are no contaminants of concern in the soils or groundwater that exceed applicable standards or that require remediation. DEP noted that landfill gas is still being generated in some locations and approved standard construction details to vent the gas, thereby eliminating any risk to health or safety.

There is absolutely no basis for concern about environmental risks associated with the development and productive re-use of this land. In fact, this former landfill has been found to be so risk-free that DEP has permitted its reuse for a child-care facility! The wild statements made by some that this is a “toxic dump” filled with “hazardous waste” are totally unfounded and simply reflect a desperate and unprincipled effort to mislead and scare the public.

Building the connector road over landfill materials raises certain engineering issues. The state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) does not have great experience with these specialized issues and, at their request, we have brought in Haley & Aldrich, the leading geotechnical engineering firm, to design construction details to address the landfill-related issue. The relevant construction methods are well-established and widely used where soil conditions are less than ideal, which is frequently the case. These construction details will be submitted to MassDOT in the near future as part of the ongoing highway design and review process. We are confident that a cost-effective design will ultimately be approved that will facilitate construction of the relocated connector road over the landfill materials.

CEA has agreed to pay for any landfill-related construction work to the extent that it causes the project cost to exceed the MassDOT budget. Under no set of circumstances will Beverly taxpayers be responsible for any costs associated with the landfill.

In the meantime, MassDOT has asked the project engineer to evaluate an alternate design to be built on the site of the current connector road. There is no question among the project engineers that this would be an inferior design that would have less capacity and would not manage traffic as effectively as the relocated connector road. Relocating the connector road is clearly viewed as the superior, preferred design. However, in the unlikely event that the relocated connector road cannot be built due to insurmountable engineering or cost issues, then this alternate design should be considered as a viable (though inferior) fallback option. For now, however, we are all focused on the preferred design option that does the best job of managing existing and future traffic, which is to relocate the connector road according to the design that has been developed by MassDOT and the project engineers over the past two years.

Steven Cohen

CEA Group Inc.