Bourne Health Board Raises Concerns About Planned Landfill Deal

A energy-producing operation proposed for a portion of the town’s landfill site off MacArthur Boulevard has met with considerable opposition from the Bourne Board of Health. Board members have expressed deep reservations about how the enterprise could impact the community.

The board of health met in a joint session with the Bourne Board of Selectmen the evening of Tuesday, June 10, to discuss a site and development agreement between the town and Harvest Power, Inc. The agreement would allow Harvest Power to lease several acres at the town’s Integrated Solid Waste Management (ISWM) site off MacArthur Boulevard North, and use trash from the landfill to produce energy.

Bourne Board of health chairman Kathleen M. Peterson said she took exception to her group’s not being included earlier in the contract negotiating process. Ms. Peterson said that since the board of health had to give its approval before selectmen could sign the lease, the health board should have been brought in sooner.

Ms. Peterson also said that she had only recently received a copy of the draft lease and she would need more time to familiarize herself with the details.

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“It’s going to take awhile to get through this lease,” she said.

Health board member Galon L. (Skip) Barlow said that while the money side of the lease looked good, he was very concerned about the potentially adverse effect Harvest Power’s operation could have on residents of Bourne. Mr. Barlow pointed to SEMASS, the waste-to-energy facility in Rochester that went into operation in 1988, and said that the facility has resulted in major problems.

“The quality of life in the area of the plant is horrible. Huge odor issues, traffic problems, too. We have to look at all these things,” he said.

He estimated that those problems could have a negative effect that would impact “well over a hundred million dollars worth of properties in this town.”

Harvest Power, with headquarters in Waltham and offices in the United States and Canada, plans to lease approximately 4.5 acres of land on the ISWM property, where it would build an anaerobic digester. Operating under a 25-year lease, the facility would digest food waste and other organic matter in the absence of oxygen within an enclosed vessel to produce biogas, which is essentially methane. This gas would then be combined with the town’s own landfill gas, also mostly methane, to be used as a fuel for engines that would produce energy on-site in a power plant. Residual solids would then be turned into fertilizer.

Mark C. Kalpin of the Boston law firm WilmerHale, the attorney hired to represent the town in negotiations with Harvest Power, presented the details of the lease to the two boards. Mr. Kalpin said the project is expected to cost approximately $35 million and take about 15 months to construct.

Mr. Kalpin explained that the base lease will be for 15 years, with two five-year extension options available to Harvest Power, for a total length of 25 years. The company can also go before Town Meeting and request a third five-year option. The lease requires the town to continue to extract gas from the landfill, but rather than just burn it off as required by state law, it will be sold to Harvest Power to use in its energy-producing operation.

The town will receive host fee payments for acceptance of materials used to create the gas Harvest Power will use to generate electricity. Over the life of the lease, assuming the full 25 years are used, host payments will generate $7.7 million, Mr. Kalpin said. Additional money will come from fees Harvest Power will pay to the town that include site lease payments, maintenance of the landfill’s gas collection system, and purchase of gas generated at the landfill.

The company would also pay a proportionate fee of the capital cost of building a reverse osmosis system at the landfill to treat leachate produced there. They would also pay a proportionate cost for operating the system. The landfill also treats its gas for sulfur, and Harvest Power would use the same equipment to treat its gas. The company would pay an additional fee for that use, he said.

In total, it is estimated that the town will receive $14.5 million over 25 years, he said.

Some of the permits required for Harvest Power to set up operations at the landfill are permits the town needs to acquire, Mr. Kalpin said. Harvest Power will reimburse the town for any costs associated with securing those permits, he said.

Mr. Barlow also expressed concern over the possibility that the town could eventually lose control of the facility to state or federal agencies. He specifically noted that Harvest Power’s operation requires the use of generators and generators can cause noise.

“Noise pollution comes under jurisdiction of the DEP, not the town,” he said.

Mr. Kalpin sought to assure everyone that the terms of the lease do not pre-empt the authority of the board of health in dealing with matters of public nuisance, safety or odor.

He said that noise, under Massachusetts law, is considered a nuisance issue for local communities to address. Nothing in the lease waives the board of health’s jurisdiction.

“The lease is the teeth that if there is a nuisance condition, if there is an odor condition, if there is a public safety condition, the town has the right to shut the facility down,” he said.

Mr. Kalpin reminded both boards that the authority to sign the lease rests within the jurisdiction of the board of selectmen. Once that decision has been made, the permitting process begins, which includes securing approval for site assignment from the board of health.

Representatives from Harvest Power did not attend Tuesday night’s meeting. John E. Redman, a member of the Bourne Landfill Model Working Group, said that was because the company was not invited to the meeting. Both boards agreed that no decision on approval of the lease would take place Tuesday night. It was agreed that selectmen would meet again on Tuesday, July 8, to further discuss the lease, with a possible vote on signing the lease scheduled for Tuesday, July 22.

Town counsel Robert S. Troy suggested that the board of health attend that meeting with its own special counsel. Ms. Peterson suggested that the health board members not attend in order to keep an open mind when the hearing for site assignment comes before them.

It was also decided that a task force comprising members of the board of selectmen, the board of health and the landfill business model working group would visit the company’s Orlando, Florida, facility to witness, firsthand, Harvest Power’s operations there.

Harvest Power currently runs facilities in Orlando, in London, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia, that are similar, although not identical, to what they plan for Bourne’s landfill.

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