, Salem, MA


December 11, 2012

A dilemma over the transfer station

A Superior Court judge’s decision against Salem’s plan for the transfer station on Swampscott Road — his second such ruling in the case — leaves the city in a bind.

Taxpayers are on the hook for the estimated $1.4 million cleanup of the site, an amount that could be increased by fines of up to $25,000 a day for failure to do so. That money is not in the city budget, and never has been, despite years of effort to find some way out of this problem.

Mayor Kim Driscoll came up with what seemed like a reasonable solution: Sell the property to Northside Carting, the business that runs the transfer station now. Northside would pay for the cleanup in exchange for permission to expand the operation and, in addition, would pay the city $250,000 a year in taxes and other payments. The idea got the go-ahead from the Salem Board of Health in 2009 but still would need two-thirds approval by the City Council.

The problem is that the expansion is much bigger than neighbors want to tolerate. Instead of handling 100 tons a day of construction debris, the nearly 9-acre site would take in 400 to 500 tons a day of trash, including, for the first time, municipal waste from other communities. The company would demolish the transfer station that’s there now and build a bigger facility. And that’s a big change.

Granted, there are few residential neighbors, one of the reasons that makes this proposal reasonable. But there are homes not far away and businesses, including a child care center, that find the prospect of such a huge increase in truck traffic disturbing. In truth, few of us would want a regional facility serviced by hundreds of odoriferous trash trucks located near our own homes and businesses.

The judge has deemed this a major change — a ruling the Department of Environmental Protection has disputed — and that means it would require a more extensive review than the city gave it when, following DEP’s advice, it handled it as a “minor modification.”

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