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WVN #484: Methane could affect two projects

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  • waylandvoters1
    Dear Wayland Voter, Environmental regulators are very serious about methane, and for good reason. It can cause explosions in the right concentrations, and it s
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 4, 2013
      Dear Wayland Voter,

      Environmental regulators are very serious about methane, and for good reason. It can cause explosions in the right concentrations, and it's many times as powerful as carbon dioxide as a contributor to global warming. Now Wayland finds itself with a methane problem that could affect plans for a new Public Works facility and a housing development.

      Also in this newsletter:

      -- The Finance Committee has listened to much public and staff comment and has made some decisions on its way to a recommended budget to present to Town meeting. It said yes to Wayland Cares (in a 4-3 vote) and to an additional police officer.

      -- The current chairman of the Board of Selectmen won't seek re-election.


      Required testing for methane on Jan. 24 at the Wayland Sand Hill landfill revealed a level that triggered reporting to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The test was a standard element in the Board of Health's due diligence review of the proposed DPW garage plans at a site adjacent to the landfill.

      Methane, a normal product of decomposition of organic matter, is always present in landfills.

      The incident brought to light the fact that Wayland has not been conducting quarterly methane tests as required by the Mass DEP, nor has it provided to DEP acceptable paperwork outlining steps to continually monitor various attributes at the site following the landfill closing in 2009. Methane testing was performed through 2009, according to DEP records.

      A "Technical Deficiency" letter from the DEP to town administrator Fred Turkington received in July 2010 outlined the missing information to be submitted and wanted a complete application by October of that year.

      Recent Test

      After Turkington signed a contract on Jan. 23 with engineering consulting firm Tighe & Bond, tests were performed the next day. Tighe & Bond's results showed a methane reading higher than the allowable 25% of the lower explosive limit (LEL) under 310 CMR 19.132(4) in one location between the existing transfer station and the proposed DPW garage site. Tighe & Bond reported the finding to DEP, as required. In 2010, the Sandhill landfill also showed a methane reading in excess of the LEL in both the northern and southern boundaries. The LEL is the concentration above which the gas mixture can catch fire or, under the right conditions, explode.

      The recent Tighe and Bond report also indicated "current frozen ground conditions are a `worst case' subsurface gas migration condition since gases vented to the subsurface would be restricted by frozen ground for naturally venting to the atmosphere." Two additional monitoring wells also showed methane, but in the ranges of 4-6% of the LEL.

      The Board of Public Works has included funding for such testing in its budget, but no methane testing has been performed and reported to the MassDEP since 2009. The DPW budget for FY 12 indicates an unspent $25,000 for contractual services at the transfer station, presumably including methane testing.

      DPW Director Don Ouellette became a Wayland employee in August 2009, hired to lead the newly created Public Works Department, reporting to the town administrator. He is currently on vacation. Ouellette's contract was renewed by Turkington last April without consulting with the Board of Public Works and without a job performance evaluation. http://www.waylandtransparency.com/assets/PDFs/DPWDirectorContract2015April2012.pdf

      DEP to Town

      Since the 2009 closure of the landfill, the town has been required to comply with solid waste transfer station rules. DEP notified Town Administrator Turkington in July 2010 of the technical deficiency of the town's application for approval of the landfill's Initial Site Assessment (ISA) and Comprehensive Site Assessment (CSA) Scope of Work (SOW). The application had been submitted prior to capping and closing the landfill. Tighe and Bond warned in its initial assessment that "development of property to the north of the site may result[s] in a public safety risk due to off-site migration of the landfill gases in this area of the site."

      DEP explained the town's options to remedy the application's deficiency. A revised application addressing the numerous problems could be submitted within 90 days; failing that, the application would be deemed withdrawn. Or the town could proceed with the existing application by written notification to DEP, in which case the application could not be revised or amended later.

      However, it appears the Town did not begin to address compliance with the DEP requirements until October 2012 when Tighe and Bond provided its proposal to the DPW Director. The consulting firm proposed to conduct the requisite annual "compliance" review as well as the biennial "conditions" review, both of which should have been regularly performed since 2009. Tighe and Bond also suggested negotiating the long overdue response to DEP concerning the numerous problems with the town's application for approval.

      Why was the required testing not conducted all along, with the discovery of non-compliance coming less than three months before the April annual Town Meeting? Voters are being asked to fund a new DPW garage at 68 River Road, adjacent to the test site, as well as to approve a complex zoning scheme to enable an apartment project at the former Route 20 septage plant to the south of the landfill.

      In 1993-1994 the town nixed a proposal for affordable housing near the proposed DPW garage site because of the potential methane liability. Wayland purchased this land. Wayland performed required testing for methane until 2009, according to DEP records.

      But attitudes change. Now the town is looking at building a DPW garage to the northwest of the landfill, and the Economic Development Committee is leading the charge to sell the former septage site for redevelopment into a dense apartment complex.

      Committee members have indicated they are aware there is methane near the site. During presentations of their proposed project, committee members have not been overly concerned about methane, saying that buildings would be designed to vent the methane. Their tests for methane found one location at 29%, above the standard of 25% of LEL . http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/WaylandMA_BComm/econ/RiversEdgeEnviroSum.pdf

      Methane is an an extremely potent greenhouse gas, 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. It is odorless and flammable and can also be harvested in some instances as an alternative energy source. The town's Energy Initiatives Advisory Committee was interested in harvesting the methane from the closed landfill, but senior staff did not support moving those plans forward. Had they done so, the threat of methane might have been eliminated. See http://groups.yahoo.com/group/waylandvotersnetwork/message/639

      Methane is not an unknown in this area and has been found at reportable levels in both the Wayland and Sudbury landfills. Because methane tends to migrate, the source (Sudbury or Wayland) could be difficult to determine.

      Sudbury was subject to DEP noncompliance enforcement action in 2005 for failure to notify the DEP promptly (within two hours) of the presence of methane in excess of the LEL standard. As the result of a resulting Administrative Consent Order, Sudbury was fined $10,000 and then agreed to perform a Supplemental Environmental Project with an estimated value of $35,000.

      Scroll down to Aug. 13, 2005:

      On Jan. 28, Health Director Julia Junghanns provided an update to the Wayland Board of Health. She explained that she began seeking background environmental information in May 2012, shortly after town meeting voters approved funding for designing the new DPW facility at the River Road location. Junghanns reported to the Board that her first inquiry was at the May land use meeting of department heads followed by various written requests of the DPW director. No information was provided in response.

      Junghanns informed the BoH that she met with DPW Director Don Ouellette and Facilities Director John Moynihan on Jan. 23, and neither of them had recent test data to share with her. Apparently the engineering firm designing the new facility, Weston & Sampson, was not asked to test for methane, but they reportedly have accommodated for the presence of methane (e.g. venting) in their designs.

      With the termination of landfill operations and facility capping, the town is required by DEP to test groundwater quality twice a year and for the presence of methane four times per year.

      After discussion, the Board of Health voted on Jan. 28 to ask the Permanent Municipal Building Committee, Ouellette and Moynihan in writing for whatever environmental reports they have for the proposed new facility. At the moment, there appears to be no DPW project information posted on the town website:

      -- WVN Staff


      During a long meeting on Jan. 28 the Finance Committee made some decisions and came closer to completing its recommended budget for the fiscal year beginning on July 1. Members approved a request for an additional police officer but said no -- for now -- to another fire fighter.

      Public comment included several citizens asking the FinCom to keep the budget level unchanged for next year. Emails FinCom members had received also sounded this note. There were opinions both in favor of and skeptical about the Wayland Cares anti-drug program.

      Also suggested by the public: Eliminating an extra $65,000 discovered by School Superintendent Paul Stein (which the FinCom did), not funding cost of living adjustments beyond contractual steps and lanes, calculating the Stabilization Fund as part of free cash, and using each department's hypothetical 10% reduction costs to find ways to reduce the budget.

      Later the FinCom decided by a 4-3 vote to keep Wayland Cares (a $102,666 item creating a new town department from a heretofore federally funded program) in the Selectmen's/Town Administrator's recommended Fiscal 2014 budget. This followed a long discussion largely about whether volunteers could perform Wayland Cares functions. It was not clear whether Wayland would be asked for more funds in the future, although in other meetings, project proponents have stated they hope to expand the program beyond helping students. If a new federal grant cannot be obtained, should Wayland continue to fund this project? What other funding options have been pursued? If a new grant is obtained, will Wayland taxpayers still be asked for more money next year?

      Heidi Heilman, director of Wayland Cares, had spoken in favor of funding her organization. Resident Anette Lewis asked for a greater effort to explain what money is used for. Others have asked for evidence that Wayland Cares is effective and performs services unavailable elsewhere. The website for the selectmen's appointed committee to study this matter:

      Police and Fire Requests

      The request for one more police officer was approved. There has been an increase in calls to the police and more staff time will also be needed when the Town Center is fully occupied. The Police Department has been requesting an extra person for several years. FinCom wanted assurances that if another officer were hired there would be less overtime. On the other hand, the request for an additional firefighter was not approved, but there was some indication this might be reviewed in executive session.

      After a short presentation on the ongoing work of the Audit Committee given by Gordon Cliff, Town Administrator Fred Turkington discussed the budget with FinCom.

      High School Building turn-backs

      Turkington explained that while $1 million for building the new High School is not needed and will not be borrowed, $2.5 million was borrowed that was also not needed. However, the Town cannot take this into account for the FY14 budget discussion at Town Meeting unless all the paperwork needed to close the project is completed by then. Several back and forth remarks about ways to get around this were made, but the bottom line is the money is not there until the paperwork is done. This money would probably affect the FY15 budget.

      In a similar vein regarding timing, money to be reimbursed by the state for the replacement of the middle school roof cannot be used in any budget until that project is finished and the money is actually reimbursed. This work should take place this summer.

      DPW bidding phases

      John Moynihan, public buildings director, noted that the DPW building would be bid in two phases. The plans for the building itself are in good shape and bids will go out next week, he said, but plans for the access road are incomplete. The access road bids will be separate. The Warrant article will cover funding for both the access road improvements and the building construction.

      Fincom took advantage of Moynihan's visit to go over a few points in the capital budget. They told Moynihan that they were planning to put off the Station 2 (fire department) heating and the renovations of the Town Building until next year. They also asked for affirmation that doing two years of floor tiles at once at Claypit Hill school would save some money. They noted that they planned to include the repairs to the Town Building parking lot in the proposed capital budget, but deemed it low priority.

      Frustration at DPW Data

      Frustration was expressed at the information provided by the DPW. FinCom was hesitant to reduce funding for DPW operations, but wanted a list of priorities for how the money would be spent. If money is left over from planned projects, there should be a prioritized list of what projects would be done next. Money should have come back to free cash instead of being used for projects not voted on. Turkington said that there was not much extra money floating around in the DPW.

      Reserve Fund Increase

      Turkington suggested that FinCom manage volatility and still reduce the total budget by having tighter budgets for each department but then increasing the FinCom reserve fund from $250,000 to $500,000 to allow for unforeseen expenses. This would make financial decisions more centralized: instead of departments allocating any money within their own budget for unforeseen events, they would be required to get funding for any overruns from a centralized source. This would still be a more flexible method than using a "transfer of funds" warrant article, he claimed. Turkington said this could be used to test for the correct tightness of budget -- if the budgeting was too tight, the FinCom fund would make up for it. The goal would be to have less turnback (budget too large) without generating too many overruns (budget too small).

      FinCom took Turkington's advice to increase the FinCom reserve to $500,000. Any transfers out of this reserve fund would have to be approved by FinCom, according to Tom Greenaway, FinCom vice chair.


      There are some proposals at the state level to limit Other Post Employment Benefits (non-pension) in the future to employees with at least 20 years service and/or past the age of 60. But this is not yet approved. FinCom member Cherry Karlson said that in any case OPEB liabilities to the town are not going away. FinCom still recommends funding OPEB at $1.3 million in FY14. This will be a separate warrant article.

      School Budget

      FinCom then went on to a discussion of the $65,000 in extra funds the School Department found from an error in accounting. After much discussion about restoring pay for some coaches which had been removed in the superintendent's budget, FinCom decided to remove $65,000 from the superintendent's budget and not add back in any pay for the cross-country and tennis coaches. This still leaves the School budget larger than the FinCom-recommended budget. Karlson explained for the benefit of new FinCom members that FinCom has authority only over the bottom line for the school budget. How that total is spent is left to the School Department.

      FinCom chairman Bill Steinberg said that the quality of the schools was important even to the large number of residents who had no children in school because school quality keeps up housing values.

      The FinCom-approved budget will allow the extras Stein asked for in the superintendent's budget -- for example, an additional fourth grade teacher to keep class sizes down and the expansion of the Chinese language program. These are offset by decreases in supplies and texts and some coaching stipends as well as other items.

      Budget Analyst

      The request for a budget analyst for the Finance Department was put off until the replacement for the former finance director is on the job. Selectmen voted a few weeks ago to approve hiring Brian Keveny of Winchester.

      -- Betty Salzberg


      John Bladon says he won't seek another term as a Wayland selectman.

      His statement last week gave no reason. He was elected in 2010 after serving for two years on the selectmen-appointed Finance Committee.

      "During that period I have had the pleasure of being a part of many exciting developments in our town," Bladon said. He has been the Board chairman for the past year.

      The town election is scheduled for April 2. No opponent for Bladon's slot had appeared when he made his announcement. Since then, Tony Boschetto and Sue Pope have taken out nomination papers for the three-year selectman's seat.

      The other contested race appears to be for a three-year term on the School Committee. Donna Bouchard and Sumita Dutta have expressed interest. The deadline for filing signed nomination papers with the town clerk is Feb. 12

      --WVN Staff

      http://www.wayland.ma.us/Pages/index to access posted meeting agendas, click on the date on the website meeting calendar. Unless otherwise noted, meetings are held in Town Building.

      Monday, Feb. 4, all begin at 7 p.m.:
      Board of Selectmen
      Finance Committee
      School Committee
      Board of Assessors
      Board of Public Works

      Tuesday, Feb. 5:
      Council on Aging, 8:15 a.m. (morning)
      Design Review Board, 6:30 p.m.
      Recreation Commission, 7:15 p.m.
      Planning Board, 7:30 p.m. Public hearings for Finnerty's, proposed DPW project on River Road, town meeting warrant article

      Wednesday, Feb. 6:
      Finance Committee, 7 p.m.
      375th anniversary celebration, 7 p.m.
      Selectmen, 8 p.m.

      Thursday, Feb. 7:
      Conservation Commission, 7:30 p.m. Notice of Intent public hearing for DPW project

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      Wayland Voters Network
      Michael Short, Editor
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