Bourne Board of Health has started an investigation into Harvest Power’s eligibility for site assignment approval at the Bourne landfill.
Board members met with Harvest Power representatives Tuesday night, August 19, and began the process by which the board will assess the company’s ability to manage and operate its proposed project. The vetting process will eventually determine if the board of health gives site assignment approval to Harvest Power, which would then allow the Bourne Board of Selectmen to sign a lease with the company.
Harvest Power is looking to lease several acres at the town’s Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) site off MacArthur Boulevard. The company has proposed using a portion of the landfill for an alternative energy project that involves what is known as “anaerobic digestion” of organic materials. The process “digests” waste, including food waste, to produce biogas energy and saleable compost.
Negotiations between the town and Harvest Power have been ongoing for nearly four years. However, health board members felt that they have not had a significant enough role in those negotiations. The issue came to a head at a joint meeting of the board of health and the Bourne Board of Selectmen on June 10, during which a negotiated lease between the town and Harvest Power was presented to the health board.
Board of health chairman Kathleen M. Peterson criticized selectmen for not including her board earlier in the negotiating process. Mark C. Kalpin, attorney who has represented the town in the negotiations with Harvest Power, said the authority to sign the lease rested solely with the selectmen.
Ms. Peterson argued that the board of health has site assignment responsibility for the landfill, and condition 10 of the site assignment contract stipulates that the board of health has the sole authority to approve the transfer of operational responsibility to someone else.
Under condition 10, it is further stated that assignment or transfer includes but is not limited to “a lease, license, or other agreement related to the operation of the site assigned areas.” The health board’s site assignment authority over the board of selectmen was ultimately confirmed by town counsel Robert S. Troy.
As described by Ms. Peterson, Tuesday night’s meeting was an opportunity for the board of health and Harvest Power “to get to know each other, see where the project is going, see what you’re doing.”
Harvest Power project manager Samuel A. Snellings gave a roughly 10-minute presentation to the board on the type of facility that would be installed at ISWM. The presentation did not include specifics on the proposed project at ISWM, only how they operate similar facilities elsewhere. Board member Galon L. (Skip) Barlow kept steering the trio away from getting into too much detail regarding their plans for the site. Mr. Barlow said the particulars could not be revealed because that kind of discussion was not on the meeting agenda.
“We’re not here to discuss your project at all. We’re just here to discuss condition 10 and whether we would support or not support,” he said.
After the presentation, Ms. Peterson said asking any questions “would be difficult.” She said that other than the lease, members of the board have not had anything to examine about the company itself that would help the board makes its decision regarding site assignment approval. She noted that some documents had been presented to the board earlier that day, but not in enough time for them to be fully read and understood.
She noted that Mr. Torres had compiled a set of 10 general questions that ask the representatives about the company’s approach to operating a facility such as the one they have proposed for ISWM. Questions also focused on how the company planned to secure insurance, the timeline for acquiring permits and licenses, and other, similar projects with which the company is involved.
Wayne M. Davis, Harvest Power’s vice president for community and government affairs, suggested that some of the answers to Mr. Torres’s list of questions may be contained in documents already submitted to the town in the company’s reply to an RFP.
“We’re happy to cooperate and provide whatever information. Is there some set of materials that we previously presented to the town that have not been made available or can’t be made available to you?” Mr. Davis asked.
Mr. Torres said he could not answer that as the board’s counsel, but he did point out that the board of health had very limited involvement in the negotiating process prior to Mr. Troy’s recent decision.
After a short recess, the Harvest Power representatives returned to give their answers to the 10 questions. With some, it was determined that either a sufficient answer had been given during Mr. Snelling’s presentation, or the answer could be obtained in documents already filed with the town.
Mr. Davis also pointed out that Harvest Power is faced with time deadlines. He specifically mentioned the Green Communities Act, passed by the state Legislature in 2008. An amendment was recently added to the act that created a special program for procurement of electricity. It is a one-time only program, and it is expected that companies will be able to apply within the next several weeks. In order to apply, Harvest Power will need site control, which comes with site assignment, he said.
“That is the one piece…why it is important that this process get wrapped up with reasonable expedition,” he said.
Ms. Peterson pointed out that, regardless of any time frame confronting Harvest Power, the board will not be rushed into making a decision.
“We’re not going to have that point where you say, ‘Well, we’re under the gun…you only have 45 days. That isn’t how it’s going to work,” she said.
Mr. Torres said that, working with documents on file with the town and the answers provided by Harvest Power Tuesday night, as well as additional documents such as the company’s financial statements, he could work out a matrix denoting what questions still needed to be answered for the board of health.
Harvest Power agreed to provide Mr. Torres and the board with updated financial statements, proof of the company’s bonding capacity, and records of completed projects that would include the project’s name, location, size, and compliance history. Those documents were presented this week to board members for their examination. Both sides agreed to meet again during the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting on Wednesday, August 27.