2006-01-19 / News

Town Council plans Feb. 1 workshop on highway barn site

By Dotti Farrington

The latest plan for the town landfill closure includes possibilities for the new public works barn, even though the state Department of Environmental Management in September cautioned against some aspects of the barn proposal.

The document, the Remedial Action Work Plan and 50 Percent Design Drawings for the landfill closure, will be aired at a public workshop set for Wednesday, Feb. 1, at 7 p.m. at the town library. The workshop was mandated by the DEM. Residents who want to comment on the plan must file their statements in writing with the DEM by Feb. 10, Interim Town Administrator Thomas Tighe told the Town Council last week.

The plan was prepared by GZA GeoEnvironmental of Norwood, Mass., consultants for the town on landfill matters since 1999. The firm was hired last April to provide up to $75,000 in engineering for the construction of a new highway barn.

GZA’s document describes how it would excavate four to eight feet of composted solid waste, or an estimated total of 10,000 cubic yards of decaying trash, for the footprint of the 12,600-square-foot barn and install about 26,000 square feet of pavement for parking and driveway access.

The DEM, which oversees all landfills and their closures in the state, told the town in September that its Office of Waste Management has “numerous concerns regarding the proposed reinterment of solid waste” at the town’s landfill.” The DEM specified that “solid waste generated during construction at the landfill should be removed, properly managed and disposed of at a licensed solid waste management facility.”

GZA said it has responded to the DEM’s comments by planning to screen and sift through the resurrected waste, using non-offensive material as cover for the landfill closure, stockpiling some for possible use, and trucking away only any materials that were clearly contaminants. The GZA plan also specifies that it will backfill with some reinterred materials.

The document consists of 40 pages of narrative, and dozens of pages of maps, graphs, lists, and charts. It is dated Dec. 27, 2005 and was released at the Jan. 9 Town Council meeting. Copies for public review are available at the office of Town Clerk Arlene Pettit and at the town library. The document may also be read or downloaded from the town Web site, www.jamestownri.net.

GZA schedule

GZA projected it would complete the design process by the end of the summer, with the expectation of getting funding approval from before the end of the year, presumably as a ballot item in the November election. No estimate of cost of the project has been provided yet. According to the GZA schedule, construction would be completed in late 2007 or early 2008. GZA said the barn is still in a “conceptual stage.”

Water for the barn will be piped through the landfill waste to a new well to be dug on Lot 47, at the east boundary of the landfill. A local doctor has already questioned if use of that well, reportedly without drinkable water, would be allowed under federal standards. Others have questioned the rightness of exposing town workers to potential contaminants at the landfill.

The barn will need a sub-slab for a ventilation system “to prevent landfill gas from migrating into the building,” according to the design report, and it will need an “internal continuous methane (explosion proof) monitoring system with alarms.”

GZA noted that solid waste is buried in 10 of the 14 acres of the landfill, including within the land intended for the barn, on the west or North Main Road area of the site.

Other changes

In addition to the closure and barn, GZA is proposing a one-acre paved storage pad on top of the landfill, and paving some of the existing gravel roads, but not paving the entire road to the proposed barn. The DEM in September called for paving of all areas “that will encounter vehicular traffic.” The new storage pad will be used for sand, gravel, piping, and other maintenance-related materials, GZA said.

Other landfill changes that GZA is designing include a 50-foot expansion of the yard and leaf compost area, relocation of existing overhead electric poles and wires, enlargement of the entrance, and a new septic system with its leach field outside the waste perimeters of the landfill. Numerous drainage structures and catch basins are required for underground detention for water treatment and control, including a separator for oils and sediments, control of groundwater runoff, and work to contain the runoff that flows over North Main Road at the entrance to the site. The metal recycling area will be paved, and may be moved, and the transfer station floor drain system and collection tank may be upgraded.

GZA noted that completion of the approved landfill closure will remove the site from the federal so-called “superfund” list of solid waste dumps.

GZA reported it would decommission some of the wells that have been used for testing. Some residents of the island’s north end are concerned about potential pollution from the site oppose the decrease in test wells.

On the other hand, it was determined that the town needs to test up to 18 private drinking wells, not the 13 originally expected, as ordered by the DEM in response to resident concerns. GZA agreed to do all the tests at the original $10,000 budgeted for that aspect of the landfill work.


GZA recited its findings about contaminants over the years, during which some residents challenged the consultant’s contentions that exceedances of federal standards were minimal or the result of naturally occurring substances. GZA detailed how all workers at the landfill during construction and closure must meet federal safety standards for clothing and safety equipment in hazardous situations.

All handling of landfill soils must be monitored by an environmental scientist, according to GZA.

GZA said it does not expect the refuse disturbance to stir up odors, but has included odor control measures as part of its design in case they are needed.


North end residents are opposed to several aspects of the proposed work. They have argued that the town is not doing enough testing and not planning adequate closure protections for groundwater safety. They contend the town is planning to add the highway barn in violation of good practice and previous town commitments to not develop the site beyond its use as a refuse transfer station.

The barn’s location has been stalled at least 20 years by arguments over its location. Lot 47 had been a primary proposed location but was blocked by nearby residents. The town tried to site the barn at Taylor Point, but voters vetoed the location and its $2.4 million budget in late 2004.

Deputy Public Works Director Michael Gray and former Town Administrator Mark Haddad last April initiated the use of a lower portion of the landfill site for the barn and the suggestion was embraced by Town Councilors and by 265 voters at the financial town meeting last June.

According to the north end residents’ technical consultants, some suspect materials from the landfill can impact the safety of the island’s ground water that is the sole source of all drinking water both for properties on private wells and on town water sources. GZA reports state negative test findings are sporadic and minimal. The reports stress that the ground water meets standards as safe for drinking.

The landfill site was used for trash burial from 1954 to 1984, local wastewater sludge disposal from about 1975 to 1985, and illegal wastewater sludge dumpings from offisland was reportedly discovered and then cleared in 1999.

The landfill site continues to be listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a “hazardous waste site” for monitoring by EPA’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Information System, called CERLIS, and commonly known as the Superfund program for management and oversight during site cleanup.

EPA officials said they delegated responsibility to the DEM in 1991, after which the town entered into a voluntary agreement to clean and close the site.

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