MARBLEHEAD — The town’s Board of Health and health director faced questions and criticism about their handling of funds for a landfill closure and new buildings at the transfer station during a more than two-hour meeting Tuesday.

The town’s health director revealed during the meeting that of the nearly $25 million borrowed by the town for the project, just $1.2 million remains.

Health Director Andrew Petty suggested that the board take a vote on one of two options he presented, with numbers he obtained from an architect Tuesday morning. One plan would be in line with the original proposal for a new building that would replace an existing compacting pit, with a current estimated cost of $6.2 million.

The other would replace a couple of structures on the site and repair the compacting pit, at a cost of $1.6 million. Petty suggested that the balance between what’s left in the bonding for the project and the cost could come from federal pandemic assistance.

The second option would keep the board from having to go to town meeting this spring — which Petty suggested would speed the process — but that some residents believe would also let them avoid questions about where earlier appropriations went.

But after member Helaine Hazlett insisted on hearing from members of the public, the board agreed to put off a vote until a special meeting next week.

The board got an earful.

Resident Jack Attridge, who has questioned where the funds went, said he was “disappointed” and still believes that there was misallocation of funds.

“I was expecting some accountability and an accounting,” Attridge told the board.

Another resident, Megan Sweeney, said beyond the financial questions, she had concerns about the employees.

“We should all be embarrassed,” Sweeney said. “We have a trailer that is in no way shape or form a safe place, a healthy place or a sanitary place for our employees. We have a responsibility for the human resources as well and we have failed them terribly.”

“I’m really kind of concerned, when I hear Andrew say ‘we respond well to comments and concerns of employees,’ and I read in the newspaper the employees are filing a labor grievance,” said Dan Albert, another resident.

Eleven minutes into the meeting, the board voted to enter a closed-door session to discuss “potential litigation” regarding a complaint from three residents concerning prior violations of the state’s Open Meeting Law by the board.

The board cited an exception that allows the board to meet in private to discuss litigation if they can show a “reasonable basis” to believe that discussing the matter publicly would have a “detrimental effect on the negotiating position of the board.”

The Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office offers guidance to public boards that says merely speaking with legal counsel is not sufficient grounds for a closed-door session, and that “Discussions relating to potential litigation are not covered by this exemption unless that litigation is clearly and imminently threatened or otherwise demonstrably likely.”

The board has been embroiled in litigation over the transfer station project for at least four years. A 2017 lawsuit by the contractor that was hired to close the landfill and counterclaim by the town was settled in 2019. According to a copy of that settlement, the contractor, Maverick, and the town agreed to cooperate in pursuing a claim against the original design firm for the project, Kleinfelder (formerly known as SEA), to recover damages.

Petty didn’t discuss specifics of the settlements, but defended how the money was spent, saying there were unanticipated costs.

On Monday, a group of union representatives and Terri Tauro, the president of the union representing some town workers, held a demonstration outside the gate of the transfer station calling out safety issues and poor conditions there.

The town’s voters approved a $5.75 million bond issue to construct a new building there in 2015, but nearly seven years later, workers are still using a temporary trailer that has fallen into significant disrepair. During the demonstration and a press conference, Tauro cited rotting floorboards in the trailer, a rodent infestation, and water entering through light fixtures. A short distance away, a corrugated steel structure covering the compactor pit is missing one side and a piece of the other, has stairs that are too steep to meet code and become slipping hazards in inclement weather, and a rusted electrical box with exposed high-voltage wires.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

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