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Newburyport asks governor to release $3m to close noxious landfill

Newburyport officials are requesting that Governor Deval Patrick release $3 million for maintenance of a privately owned landfill where the foul odor, residents say, has plagued them for about a decade.

Senator Kathleen O’Connor Ives said she added an amendment to the state’s environmental bond bill, which Patrick signed in August. She said it allocates $3 million toward “monitoring, maintenance, responding to future landfill problems, or to ensure public health and safety.”

O’Connor Ives, Representative Michael A. Costello, and the Newburyport City Council have written letters to the governor, who must sign off on the project before the city can access the funds.

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“This doesn’t negate the landfill owner’s responsibility to properly close the landfill,” O’Connor Ives said recently. “But this fund would empower the city to respond to any public safety issues after the landfill is closed.”

Larry Giunta, Ward 5 councilor for Newburyport, said he is “thrilled” that money for the Crow Lane landfill was included in the environmental bond bill, because the city must be able to address landfill problems on its own. “It’s imperative that we get this money,” he said.

New Ventures Associates LLC took title of the Newburyport property in 2000 and received state approval to cap and close the landfill. O’Connor Ives said several issues have prevented its closure, such as structural problems and the emission of hydrogen sulfide – resulting in a rotten-egg smell that residents say causes symptoms including headaches and a burning sensation in the throat.

“The city of Newburyport has been very patient, and there comes a certain point when you need to have the resources to respond,” O’Connor Ives said.

The city may have to wait until after the gubernatorial election in November, however. Krista Selmi, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said the funds are unlikely to be released until the next administration is in office, as the state’s capital spending budget for this year has already been approved.

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Ed Coletta, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, said agency officials have detected odors atop the landfill sporadically over the past few months, including on a few occasions in August.

“We’ve received reports from residents and the mayor that were very consistent with the odors that we were able to determine had been released from the landfill itself, so we’re confident that there were impacts to the residential areas during a number of these incidents,” he said.

Newburyport Mayor Donna D. Holaday called the amendment a “proactive move” and an assurance for the city, but she is unhappy that such a step is necessary.

“It frustrates me because this is the responsibility of New Ventures, who owns the landfill, and now we’re tapping into taxpayers’ money, from the state, to fix something that we shouldn’t have to fix,” she said.

The city and the company have been at odds for years over the pace and cost of the landfill closure.

New Ventures set up a fund of nearly $3 million to fix problems associated with the landfill, and the fund has less than $90,000 left in it.

Chip Nylen, the attorney for New Ventures, said he does not oppose the city’s securing money to protect itself, but the remaining funds should be more than sufficient to maintain the landfill.

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“The majority of the costs are behind us,” Nylen said. “We think that $90,000 is going to go a long way toward post-closure.”

Nylen said New Ventures has made it a priority to stop the hydrogen sulfide emissions from leaking into the neighborhood, and that the company is eager to close the site.

“Our position has been to work with the DEP and the city to close the landfill,” he said. “We want to close this so it’s behind us.”

Ron Klodenski, who lives about a third of a mile away from the landfill, said he feels “temperate enthusiasm” about the state granting Newburyport this money.

“It’s great this is going to get fixed, but it doesn’t seem like justice has been done,” said Klodenski. “We’re more than happy that some steps are being taken to eliminate the problems we experience, but it seems unfair that we and the other citizens of Massachusetts are going to end up paying for it.”

Klodenski, 67, who works as a technical writer, said he has experienced burning eyes and a scratchy throat from the landfill emissions. Although the odors are less frequent than they used to be, he said, the neighborhood is haunted by the fact that the rotten-egg smell could surface at any time.

“It’s very demoralizing,” he said. “A few years ago on Christmas, we had to cancel a gathering because the odors were so bad.”

Bill Woodbury, a telecommunications worker who lives near the landfill, said the odor has caused him a lot of anxiety and sleepless nights. Woodbury, 51, said the smell is “unmistakable” and leaves a metallic taste in his mouth and burns his throat.

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After dealing with this problem for years, Woodbury is not convinced that it will ever be fixed, and he compared it with the Bill Murray film in which the character must endure the same day over and over again.

“It’s like ‘Groundhog Day,’ except it’s not funny and there’s no happy ending,” he said. “You wake up, and it’s like, here we go again.”


Katherine Landergan can be reached at katherine.lander-gan1@gmail.com.