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DEP holding $400K for town

Funds in escrow since 2004 Wood Recycling fire case

January 10, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — Southbridge has a pretty good dilemma to have in a bad economy: what to do with a windfall of $400,000 plus interest.

The money has been sitting in a state Department of Environmental Protection escrow account for five years, the result of fines charged to former landfill operator Wood Recycling and paid by Casella after the latter bought the former in Nov. 2003.

"The town approached us about using the funds and we've asked them to work with Casella to identify an appropriate project," DEP spokesman Joe Ferson said, adding, "Any use of the funds that doesn't strictly meet the [settlement] requirements" might have to go back to court for approval.

Specifically, a 2004 order from Suffolk Superior Court states the money is to be used "to mitigate for the loss of wetlands." It was imposed on top of a $575,000 civil penalty to the state for violations of the Wetlands Protection Act, Clean Air Act, and Hazardous Waste Management Act for incidents that were observed by DEP inspectors in 2000.

Ferson said he believed the town knew of the account's existence long ago, but Town Manager Christopher Clark said he first learned of it in December, when DEP announced it had fined Casella $34,314 for an unrelated landfill violation that occurred in 2007. For clarity, Clark became manager in summer 2008, and several other town department heads have also changed since the settlement agreement in 2004, when Clayton Carlisle was manager.

According to the agreement, the violations included notification failures regarding waste oil, improper labeling of a storage tank, failure to meet emergency plan and recordkeeping requirements, using an unregistered ID number and unapproved equipment, inappropriate air pollution control gear and wastewater discharge, and not having certain personnel on site. DEP also found unstable landfill slopes, trash in and illegal discharge to wetlands, insufficient drainage controls, leachate accumulation and failure to cover the active part of the site. It also refers to the lack of "appropriate equipment and necessary precautions to prevent stockpiled material from combusting" during the infamous eight-day fire that raged from July 26 to Aug. 3, 2002.

For more on this story, please see Monday's Southbridge Evening News.

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